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US wants to boost trade with Jakarta, says envoy

By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

The trade war between economic giants the US and China may have stirred up anxiety about Asean’s fate in the fight, but US Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph Donovan Jr has sought to soothe concerns, saying that dispute or not, Washington hopes to boost its trade relations with Jakarta.

“It’s important to remember what the issues are in our trade dispute with China. What we’re seeking is an enforceable solution to China’s market-distorting practices and policies, and that’s the key,” he said yesterday at a Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club dialogue, when asked what lies ahead for the region. “Whether or not there is a trade dispute between the US and China, we’re looking to grow our trade relationship with Indonesia,” he said.

After all, while trade between the US and Indonesia has been rising, there is more to be done.

Last year, bilateral trade stood at about US$29 billion (S$39.6 billion) – but this was just half the amount between the US and Vietnam, noted Mr Donovan.

“What that shows you is that we’re only scratching the surface with Asean’s largest economy and with the most populous nation in South-east Asia. So there’s a lot of room to grow in terms of our bilateral trade and investment.”

The United States, he added, is studying the economic partnership between the two countries to come up with recommendations on how to move it forward.

The 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Indonesia and the US this year comes amid heightened global tensions, but Mr Donovan is optimistic about the future of wide-ranging ties between the two countries.

There are abundant opportunities in areas such as nurturing youth and Indonesia’s booming digital economy. He noted that over 35,000 Indonesians have taken part in the US’ Young South-east Asian Leaders Initiative for leadership development since the programme’s launch in 2013.

“We invest in these young leaders because the future belongs to them. We firmly believe the youth in South-east Asia are leading the way towards a brighter future,” he said. And while the number of Indonesians studying in the US over the past years has been about 9,000 – the highest in over a decade – “we need to do a better job on this”, he added.

Washington is keen to work with Jakarta on expanding the Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education to include more US universities, and promote policies that will boost educational opportunities in Indonesia.

And, noted Mr Donovan, Indonesia’s digital economy has emerged as a leader in Asean, with the country home to a stable of online giants such as ride-hailing company GoJek and e-commerce business Tokopedia.

“The US is the birthplace of many digital technologies, but to anyone who has ever visited Jakarta, it’s all too evident that the future of the digital economy is taking shape here,” he said.

US firms have been working to help equip Indonesians with the skills needed, he said, citing Apple, which chose Indonesia as the site for its first developer academy in South-east Asia, and Google, which offers digital literacy and skills training.

“Working together, US and Indonesian innovators are changing every aspect of our countries’ economies for the better, making farms and factories more competitive, cities smarter and safer, and creating new partnerships.”

Mr Donovan also praised Indonesia for achieving “another milestone for its democracy” – the conclusion of its first simultaneous legislative and presidential elections in April.

And congratulating incumbent Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin, the presidential race winners according to the official tally by the Election Commission, he added: “We’re prepared to work with them going forward on a wide range of issues, including strengthening our strategic partnership.”

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