India and Indonesia must cooperate closely in areas like defence, security and counter-terrorism, President Joko Widodo has said ahead of his state visit as the key Southeast Asian nation sought to enhance bilateral strategic partnership and trade ties. Widodo said Indonesia is also willing to consider a bilateral trade pact with India.
“I am very much looking forward to have discussions Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi,” Widodo, 55, told PTI ahead of his two-day visit to India beginning tomorrow, the first by an Indonesian President after former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s trip in 2011.
Widodo said he sees closer cooperation between Indonesia and India in defence, security and anti-terrorism fields. “This is something that we are currently discussing…both our countries have large maritime regions, so cooperation in this sphere is welcome,” said Widodo, the President of the country that has the world’s largest Muslim population.
It is also appropriate that Indonesia and India work together to fight terrorism, he asserted, adding that, “no country is immune from a terrorist attack”. Indonesia will always cooperate with all countries to fight terrorism through the exchange of information as well as intelligence exchanges and cooperation, he said.
“I hope to increase ties in all sectors, especially economic. We have cultural and religious ties going back centuries. Ramayana and Mahabharata are very famous in Indonesia,” Widodo said.
He said the discussions with Modi will cover economic, trade and investment collaboration. Indonesia is also willing to consider a bilateral trade pact with India, the president said.
“This is something that we are willing to consider. The important thing is that such trade deals must benefit both parties,” he said. Indonesia has emerged to become the second largest trading partner of India in the ASEAN region. Bilateral trade has increased from USD 6.9 billion in 2007-08 to USD 19.03 billion in 2014-15. In 2015-16 the bilateral trade fell to USD.9 billion due to global economic situation, fall in commodity prices and less overall imports by Indonesia.
“Strong leadership is important at this time,” said Widodo on Prime Minister Modi’s tough decisions for accelerating the Indian economy and development.
Widodo said he has had held several discussions with Modi on Indian companies’ investment in Indonesia. He stressed that he would like to see Indian investment in the pharmaceutical sector as a priority and also in the infrastructure.
The President listed investment opportunities in his country, saying, “We have huge infrastructure needs, including toll roads, power plants, ports and airports. This is especially the case for the areas outside Java.”
“We feel that investments in this (infrastructure) sector will prove just as lucrative,” he said.
Responding to a question on Indian companies’ participation in the Indonesia’s coal mining sector, Widodo said Indonesia-India have a Joint Working Group on Coal to discuss the cooperation regarding coal.
The President stated that Indonesia is actively reforming its regulations to make doing business easy for both foreign and local investors.
Widodo said he would welcome an initiative to work jointly to promote indigenous spices, such as cloves and pepper from the two countries, on the global markets.
“I believe it’s important for countries like ours to ‘market’ themselves to the global community. The best way to do this is to develop and highlight indigenous local products, such as spices,” he said.
Widodo said he would also like to see more Indian tourists visiting Indonesia.
“We have many tourist destinations including Labuhan Bajo (Komodo islands), Raja Ampat in Papua and Jogjakarta and Solo in Java,” he said.
The Indonesian President also highlighted many similarities between India and Indonesia. “We are also large, diverse countries which are democracies,” he said.
Talking about raising the representation of developing countries in international forums like the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations, Widodo said, “Indonesia wishes to be an active and constructive member in international forums.”
“We definitely feel that the voices of developing countries should be heard more on the world stage,” he said.
Widodo, while responding to Vice President Hamid Ansari’s call for Indonesia to work with India to bring more equity into the international order through forums like WTO and the UN, said, “We are willing to work with India to help bring this about.”
Asked about further business liberalisation under the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement, the President said, “the respective countries must be prepared in order to fully benefit from such agreements.”
“Indonesia is seeking to cut red tape and ensure that our local businesses are more competitive,” he said.
“There will be greater acceptance and support for such (multi-country trade) agreements if this can be achieved across the board,” he said. Indonesia enjoys trade surplus with India, though the volume has been small and declining, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Latest figures show the January-June 2016 bilateral trade was USD 5.9 billion, down 26.37 per cent on the year. Indonesia exported USD 4.57 billion worth of goods, including coal, palm oil, natural rubber, copper and ores among others. Imports from India were at USD 1.33 billion, a surplus of USD 3.246 billion in Indonesia’s favour.