Anindya Bakrie, chairman of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). (B1 Photo/David Gita Roza)

Indonesia Seeks to Advance Developing Countries' Agenda as Host of ABAC II Meeting


APRIL 25, 2019

Jakarta. Indonesia finds itself in a delicate position to advance fellow developing countries' agenda on the digital economy, inclusive development and women's empowerment, through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, amid a standoff between the world's two biggest economies. 

The 30-year-old intergovernmental forum, aimed at promoting free trade in the Asia-Pacific region, has facilitated many trade talks and multilateral cooperation agreements between its 21 member states. Yet in the past few years, it has been facing the challenges of rising protectionism, especially as its largest members, the United States and China, are locked in a trade dispute.

"There is no question that APEC has been a big part in the economic success story in the region," Anindya Bakrie, chairman of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), said in a speech in Jakarta on Wednesday. 

But rising tensions between the two economic giants could complicate efforts to share prosperity and reduce economic inequality, on which many developing members of the forum try to find concrete consensus, he said.  

"Imagine if the speaker is one of the superpowers, surely the other one would prepare to stand its ground. But if the mediator is from a relatively small country, its voice would not be heard," Anindya said. "That's why Indonesia is in a unique position… It can act as a counterweight."

APEC has, since its founding in 1989, served as a nonbinding forum for countries around the Pacific Ocean to discuss trade, investment and economic reform. Its members – Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Peru, Russia and Vietnam – together make up 38 percent of the world population.

APEC members had a combined total gross domestic product of $48 trillion in 2017, accounting for 60 percent of the world GDP, according to the bloc's most recent report. 

Indonesia's Agenda

Indonesia is hosting ABAC's second meeting of 2019 in Jakarta on April 23-26. The host nation has raised several issues, such as the digital economy, inclusive development, and women's empowerment during the event.

Anindya said Indonesia is proud to share its experiences in building an ecosystem for a thriving digital economy. The country's leading financial technology companies, such as OVO and Go-Jek Indonesia, have catered to millions of Indonesians and small businesses with their digital payment services. 

Indonesia has also managed to reduce economic inequality over the past four years – as reflected in its Gini ratio of 0.38 last year, compared with 0.41 in 2014 – thanks in part to the government's extensive social programs. 

"Everyone can talk about economic growth, but it is not easy [to achieve], because it requires extra effort. Indonesia is considered quite successful in terms of inclusivity," Anindya said.

Compared with other countries, Indonesia has made major advancements on women's empowerment. Women's participation in the workforce reached 54 percent in the country, compared with the global average of 39 percent. 

Anindya is optimistic that the issues raised by Indonesia in the meeting would form part of important discussions and have a huge influence on the APEC Leaders' Meeting in Chile in November.

Trade and Investment

The ABAC chairman said the meeting could open opportunities for cooperation in both trade and investment, especially after Indonesia demonstrated its readiness as host to more than 200 chief executives from the Asia-Pacific region by holding the meeting only a week after simultaneous presidential and legislative elections.

"Many participants praised Indonesia for being able to host the ABAC meeting despite political uncertainty. The ABAC meeting is at the center of the world attention. This is proof of the trust friendly countries have in Indonesia. We must be able to maintain it," Anindya said.

Rosan Roeslani, chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), expressed hope that participants in the meeting could discuss global trade issues in a more informal setting and take the results back to their national leaders for consideration.

Kadin deputy chairman Erwin Aksa said the year's second ABAC meeting was an important momentum for Indonesia to seek more opportunities in trade with APEC members. 

"Trade, especially exports, is a strategy to encourage the economy to grow sustainably," Erwin said.

Role Model

Coordinating Economic Affairs Minister Darmin Nasution said Indonesia is an important country in APEC due to its large population and stable economy. The archipelago should set an example and be more active in taking the lead on global issues.

"Investment, trade, and SMEs are issues that should not be missed and must be discussed now. Investment can create a sustainable economy, trade can increase foreign exchange and SMEs are drivers of a sustainable economy," Darmin said at a gala dinner in Jakarta on Wednesday. 

Also present at the gala dinner were Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto, Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and businessman James Riady.

"I really appreciate the ABAC II meeting and Indonesia being the host," Airlangga said, adding that he hoped it could help the country to sustain current momentum in its manufacturing industry, which is now growing steadily on the back of export demand.