Ambassador Gurjit Singh on Dec. 18 paid a farewell call on Vice President Jusuf Kalla, in which he thanked the Vice President on his continuous support in further strengthening the bilateral relationship. (Photo courtesy of the Indian Embassy)

Indian Ambassador Bids Farewell After Tenure of 'Remarkable Progress'

BY :MUHAMAD AL AZHARI

DECEMBER 21, 2015

Jakarta. Indian Ambassador Gurjit Singh, who bids farewell to Jakarta this Wednesday, has noted key areas for his successor to focus on, including the strengthening of business-to-business relationships, and boosting tourism and education cooperation.

"We have had a very good intergovernment [relationship], what we are lacking is a stronger B-to-B relationship. India-Indonesia trade records about $20 billion per year, with Indonesia posts a surplus $10 billion," he said in an interview recently.

Singh, who has served as ambassador to Indonesia and Timor-Leste for more than three years, said Delhi was happy with the trade figure despite suffering a deficit as the country imports raw commodities from Indonesia — but the Asian giant also wishes to see greater efforts from its Indonesian counterparts to tap the Indian market.

He said India sends about 10 trade delegations a year for trade promotion in different sectors to seek opportunity in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, but from Indonesia side, it has been lacking similar efforts are lacking.

“There’s still a huge room to grow, India is [among] the biggest buyers of coal and palm oil … But how can we move from commodities?” Singh said, adding that both countries may start thinking about further economic cooperation like joining hands in developing smart cities and renewable power plants, areas in which both countries are keen to develop.

Bilateral trade between India and Indonesia stood at $20 billion last year. India is Indonesia's biggest buyer for its thermal coal, palm oil and other commodity-related products, including rubber.

Meanwhile, the bulk of India's exports to Indonesia consists of  refined petroleum products, maize, commercial vehicles, telecommunication equipment, oil seeds, animal feed, cotton, steel products, plastics and pharmaceuticals in bulk and formulations.

He said India planned to develop 100 "smart cities" and that the country's commitment during the last G-20 meeting to build renewable power capacities of up to 175 gigawatts by 2022 would cut fossil fuel use and help reduce the carbon print of the nation.

Similarly on investment, Singh noted that Indian corporations, from the 1970s to today, have sunk about $15 billion worth of investment in Indonesia.

"All companies that come in the 1970s in the last two years have reinvested here, while Indonesian companies have little investment in India," he said.

Large Indian companies from polyester maker and textile company Indorama Group and automotive maker Tata Motors, to fast-moving consumer goods group like Godrej have had a significant presence in Southeast Asia's most populous country.

Meanwhile, only a few Indonesian companies have entered India's market, one of them being noodle maker Indofood.

People-to-people

During his tenure as ambassador, Singh has pushed his agenda to strengthen political ties as well as people-to-people relationships between the two nations which share many cultural relationships.

Some of the highlights of his tenure include his success with organizing the visit of then-prime minister Manmohan Singh to Indonesia in October 2013, Bollywood centenary celebrations in 2013, and the participation of the Indian foreign minister at the 60th Asia-Africa Conference Commemoration in April 2015.

He also played a vital role in a recent visit by the Indian vice president in November 2015 and organization of the Festival of India and International Day of Yoga this year.

“We have worked to improve people-to-people relationships in different regions [of Indonesia],” Singh said.

He pointed to some of the programs organized by the Indian Embassy in Jakarta, including "Sahabat India — the Festival of India in Indonesia" this year.

Singh was also involved in the publication of "Masala Bumbu — Enhancing the India-Indonesia Partnership," a book that re-examines the relationship between India and Indonesia, which involved 34 writers from India and Indonesia — all prominent figures and experts coming from a variety of backgrounds, including diplomats, academics, activists, entrepreneurs, politicians, researchers and media.

He noted that even with some efforts from both government to ease travel of people — including through visa-free programs from Indonesia to Indian nationals and an e-visa program from the Indian government for Indonesians, in which India pledges to give visas for Indonesians applying to India via an online portal within three days, the number of tourists from and to both countries was still low.

“What's missing is more tourists,” he said, adding that India sends 250,000 tourists per year abroad, while about 70,000 Indonesians head abroad, but only a small proportion of those figure goes to outbound tourists from India or Indonesia.

Singh also noted that there was a lack of student exchanges from both countries.“Not many Indians come here to study.”

Still, he noted that his stay in Jakarta was a tenure full of initiatives and remarkable progress in bilateral relations which witnessed India and Indonesia became comprehensive strategic partners.

Singh paid a farewell visit on Dec. 18 to the Vice President Jusuf Kalla, in which he thanked Kalla for his continuous support in further strengthening the bilateral relationship.

“The visit of the vice president of India to Indonesia in November 2015 provided an impetus to the cooperation on wide array of sectors including renewable energy, Make in India, Smart Cities and culture. The action points that emanated during the visit need to be carried forward,” the Indian Embassy said in a separate statement.

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