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Trading with Indonesia? Best know them first

By Duncan Graham - posted Thursday, 3 December 2015


Harold Mitchell seems an OK guy.  A seriously rich media buyer and philanthropist concerned about health and Indigenous art, and also interested in Indonesia.

His personal involvement with the Republic spans ‘many decades’, originally in advertising and now beef.  He chairs the Australia Indonesia Centre, set up by Tony Abbott two years ago with an impressive board.

It has just produced a 102-page upbeat report titled Succeeding Together touting AUD 3 trillion business opportunities in Indonesia.

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The AIC’s optimism is based on Indonesia’s size (it’s the world’s fourth most populous nation), its growth, particularly in the so-called middle classes, proximity, and possible emergence as a world power, though unlikely under the inward-looking nationalist  President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo.

After visiting Yogyakarta last month (Nov) with Trade Minister Andrew Robb, Mitchell used his Sydney Morning Herald column to praise the possibilities for trade with our giant neighbour.

Robb led the 350-strong delegation billed as Australia’s biggest and garnered plenty of positive publicity. Less well known is that as the Qantas Airbuses jetted south, JAL Boeings deplaned more than 1,000 Japanese on a similar mission.

They got to meet Jokowi in his palace, while the Australians only managed a meal with Yogyakarta’s Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, a politically minor figure.

(Japan is the second biggest investor in Indonesia behind Singapore.  Then comes South Korea, the UK, the US, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong and China.)

Nonetheless anything that helps bond Indonesia and Australia has to be good. Positive outcomes include a promised relaxing of our onerous visa rules and bilateral trade talks starting next year. But to cement these worthy ambitions Mitchell and the AIC must first lay down a hardstand of market realities and shirtfront their masters about the problems. 

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Only 250 Australian companies are doing business in Indonesia.  There used to be 400.  What went wrong?  Are public perceptions infecting board decisions? 

The Lowy Institute has done the polls: ‘Australians’ feelings towards Indonesia, which have never been warm and have at times been characterised by wariness and even fear, have fallen to their lowest point in eight years.’

If the chance to make big bucks is so good why is it necessary to bang the drum, and so loudly?  Any CEO worth her or his salary plots their own course; they don’t need politicians and public servants to GPS the honeypot.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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All articles by Duncan Graham

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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