Summit indicates no plan to move toward FTA

Jakarta Post, 6 April 2005

Summit indicates no plan to move toward FTA

Zakki P. Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The upcoming Asian-African Summit will first focus on establishing a new strategic partnership, and would not as yet moving toward ideas of linking the two continents via a free trade agreement, senior officials said.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs secretary-general Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat said that there were no indications so far the summit would move towards the establishment of an Asia-Africa Free Trade Area.

"However, we have identified that (a FTA) is one form of cooperation that we can pursue in the long term. But maybe not in the foreseeable future," Sudjadnan told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, the summit will be a great opportunity for nations in the two regions to boost bilateral trade, he said.

"We must not lose our traditional markets like the U.S., Japan and the EU, but we must also build access to new alternative markets such as Africa and other Asian countries," he said.

Separately, Ministry of Trade director of bilateral cooperation Deddy Saleh said that for the time being establishing a FTA would be very unlikely, as the two continents had very different characteristics.

"Regionalism (in trade) is not practical," he said recently.

Deddy said that African countries had their own preferential trade areas, as well as some economic cooperation agreements with developed nations.

Similarly, Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would prefer to concentrate on the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) first and in the grouping’s partnership with Japan, China and India, he said.

Therefore, it would be more efficient for Asian countries to establish a FTA with existing African pacts.

"For example, Indonesia can cooperate with the South African Custom Union (SACO), from which the country could penetrate the South African regional market," he said and added that there were 22 nations in the South African region.

He said that a similar move could be applied in the Northern African region, home to 26 countries, including Egypt, Libya and Morocco.

Indonesia will host a major summit of Asian and African nations in late April in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the historic Asia-Africa Conference.

The main aim of the summit is to revive the Bandung Spirit and establish a New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP).

Sudjadnan said that on the sidelines of the summit, which will be held in the Jakarta Convention Center, Senayan, that Indonesia would also host the Asia-Africa Business Summit in Mulia Hotel, Jakarta.

He said that the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) would be the host of the business summit, in which CEOs and business leaders from the two continents would meet and open up business opportunities.

Among the key speakers in the business summit are President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, South Africa President Thabo M. Mbeki, President of China Hu Jintao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong and Japan’s PM Junichiro Koizumi.

"They will mainly talk on doing business with the Japanese or the Chinese — what the Japanese want,"

source: Jakarta Post