President Joko Widodo briefs the press after delivering a speech at Trade Ministry's Working Meeting (Photo Credit: Presidential Office)

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – Indonesia’s lingering suppressed value of trade has sparked concerns. During the opening of a Trade Ministry meeting Wednesday (31/1), President Joko Widodo expressed his displeasure over export figures, which are still behind other Southeast Asian Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

“If we keep going on like this, we will be beaten by Cambodia and Laos,” he complained during the meeting.

According to Trade Ministry data, the country’s export value stood at US$168.7 billion in 2017, compared to Thailand’s exports value of $236.69 billion, Vietnam at $213.77 billion and Malaysia amounting to $219.45 billion, from January to November 2017.

Jokowi also criticized government top officials’ lack of attention to markets in India and Bangladesh, after they missed December’s Asian International Trade Expo in Dhaka.

“Bangladesh has a population of 160 million. This is a big market, but we missed the recent expo. We keep repeating our mistakes,” he said, adding that Indonesia needed to be more aggressive in participating in any potential trade expos that had the potential to boost trade.

Somehow, the spirit to lift trade from the export side was not followed by the ability to increase the competitiveness in self-sufficiency; early this year government unveiled a plan to import 500,000 tons of medium-grade rice from Thailand and Vietnam, to quench price speculation on the commodity, as the price has been increasing since late 2017 as a result of a supply shortage.

The government said that declining supplies of medium-quality rice had caused the commodity’s price to surge since December.

Ease Permits for Raw Material Imports

On Thursday (1/2), the Indonesian government officially issued a new policy package specifically for export and import business sectors, to expedite raw material imports. The raw materials permit would not however be implemented for consumer goods that require a pre-distribution period. 

As of Feb. 1, 2018, the scheme to control imports outside the region post-border will be simplified. With this policy, the government aims to lift local industries’ competitiveness.

Indonesia has trade negotiations ongoing with various trading partners, including Australia, Iran, the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. The agreements are expected to particularly boost non-oil and gas exports.

The Ministry targets an increase in non-oil & gas exports by 5 to 7 per cent in 2018, from the estimated US$ 154.8 billion achieved in 2017.

From January to November, non-oil & gas exports reached $139.68 billion, up 16.89 percent over a year earlier.

Last year, Indonesia recorded accumulative exports of US$168.73 billion and imports of US$156.89 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $11.84 billion, the highest in five years.

In 2013, Indonesia posted a trade deficit of US$4.08 billion, a deficit of US$2.2 billion in 2014, bouncing back to a surplus of US$7.67 billion in 2015 and a trade surplus of US$9.53 billion and trade surplus of $8.78 billion the next year.

Indonesia’s overall exports grew 16.22 per cent in full-year 2017, while imports grew 16.66 per cent.