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Indonesia warns of ‘challenging’ trade talks with Canada

Manitoba Co-operator - 12 July 2021

Indonesia warns of ‘challenging’ trade talks with Canada
By D.C. Fraser

Canada is preparing to formally launch bilateral trade negotiations later this year with Indonesia, but already plans to include gender, environmental and labour provisions in a deal are being described as a “challenge.”

The two nations have long flirted with the idea of a trade agreement, with Canada launching stakeholder consultations of the subject in January.

By February, the two nations were engaged in technical discussions.

“We discussed around 21 issues, and as a basis, the technical discussion went smoothly,” said Iffah Sa’aidah, an Ottawa-based trade attaché for Indonesia. “We know each other, in terms of what is the red line, what we can accept, or maybe the potential for what we can negotiate in the future.”

Leaders from the two countries have agreed to taking further steps towards a deal, and Canadian deal makers are believed to have received permission from cabinet to start negotiating.

Sa’aidah said Indonesia’s priorities are to liberalize trade while facilitating more trade and economic co-operation with Canada.

“In terms of goods, of course we would like better access of our products, because we are a tropical climate country,” she said, listing rubber, textiles, furniture and palm oil as commodities attractive to Canadian markets.

Wheat and soybeans are two of the highly sought-after Canadian products Sa’aidah hopes to see more of in Indonesia, saying there is a path for a “complementary” deal.

Already there are expected sticking points, however.

Officials with Global Affairs Canada have said the approach to negotiations will be to, “… seek a comprehensive and inclusive agreement to ensure that the benefits and opportunities of increased trade and investment are widely shared, including for women-owned businesses, small businesses and Indigenous entrepreneurs.”

Sa’aidah confirmed issues related to gender, labour and the environment were “discussed deeply” during technical discussions.

Experts have questioned if Canada’s inclusive trade agenda can find success in a majority Muslim country with bigger priorities than trade, or engaging in moral policing, with Canada.

“We call them ‘new issues’ because we never included such issues in our current agreements, and yes, these will be a challenge for us,” said Sa’aidah.

Progress made by Canada on these issues will likely come down to what it is willing to offer in exchange.

Sa’aidah said they will be “difficult issues to face” with Canada, but did not want to comment in depth before formal negotiations begin.

“When we have entered into negotiations, then we can see how these things develop for the new issues, but for now Indonesia is still gathering more information and this is something new for us,” she said. “We have to carefully study, carefully check what Canada already gives to other countries that give commitments for those new issues.”

Technical discussions outlined “what the red line is and what issues can be discussed further.”

“We know what the red line is, and what issues can’t be discussed further,” said Sa’aidah. “We can see it as a challenge for us.”

 source: Manitoba Co-operator