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Indonesia needs to contribute more for fairer global trade, says new Indonesian ambassador to WTO

Tuesday, September 09, 2014 > 10:30:13

(Jakarta Post)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Bali in December 2013 reached a crucial agreement, seen as the first trade reform since the establishment of the global organization in 1995. So far, however, little progress has been made in implementing the trade deal, known as the Bali package. The Jakarta Post’s Linda Yulisman recently talked with Iman Pambagyo, the new Indonesian ambassador to the WTO, on the role that Indonesia could play to bolster the deal and other issues. Here are excerpts from the interview.

Question: Could you elaborate on your priorities as the new ambassador to the WTO?

Answer: First of all, I will work to ensure that the Bali package progresses so that we can come up with programs to eventually conclude the Doha Round. The General Council meeting in Geneva in July failed to agree on a protocol to implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement. The opponent of the Bali package said that no progress was seen in other elements of the package. That was a reasonable argument. However, to ‘hijack’ the trade facilitation deal is not a win-win solution because in the end we would not be able to move other elements [agriculture and concessions for poor countries] as well. It would mean that we cannot attain our goal to endorse the development agenda at the WTO.

It seems the absence of progress in other elements of the Bali package is attributable to the lack of initiative from members to push them forward. What do you think?

Exactly. I observed that the stakeholders in these issues did not do much to make them progress. My point is that all countries of interest must be more active in endorsing their proposals, finding the solutions and moving forward.

Little has been done by proponents of each proposal, including India, since last December to July this year. The G33 met for talks on its core issues — special products and special safeguard mechanism — and the group came up with proposals in the General Council meeting to address its particular concerns. But India did not work through the G33, for instance, to seek solutions for the public stockholding issue.

The next question for WTO will be: To which extent will progress in the public stockholding proposal be considered sufficient by India and other countries to enable a move forward in the Trade Facilitation Agreement?

What are your thoughts on making all these things advance?

I am thinking of dedicated, regular talks under the committee on agriculture, for instance on a permanent solution for public stockholding, and on less-developed countries [LDCs] concessions under the committee on development issues. We may need to talk with some key countries and adopt a similar approach by engaging all members and addressing their concerns, like we did in Bali.

It seems the talks at the WTO are now back to ‘business as usual’ and, therefore, we need breakthroughs in Geneva to move forward the way we did ahead of the Bali meeting.

In Bali we broke the habit of the WTO because Indonesia as the host was determined to make the meeting inclusive by listening to all members and accommodating their interests as much as possible. Bali is proof that we can deliver if everybody is heard.

You spoke of the role that Indonesia could play in the multilateral context. Is there a way that Indonesia can contribute more to the international forum?

I think it is high time for Indonesia to play a more outstanding role and to participate in creating a fairer global trade system. Here I refer to two opposing schools of thought on globalization and trade liberalization: one group says that these two processes [globalization and trade liberalization] will automatically reduce poverty and development gaps, while the other group says that apart from boosting trade, the processes also inherently result in new poverty and new development gaps, or at least widening existing development gaps.

These two opposing thoughts are always present in any forum, including at the WTO as well as regional and bilateral platforms. So what is the way out? What is the solution? In this case, I lean more toward the idea conveyed by Joseph Stiglitz that globalization and liberalization are inevitable. The most important thing is how to manage them, for example, by allowing a longer time-frame for countries that are not well-prepared. As incapable countries gear up with their domestic preparation, advanced countries or international organizations may provide them with assistance when necessary and in line with their competencies and with an equal reciprocity principle.

I lean more toward such an approach, and I think this is what Indonesia has been adopting since 2011 when it chaired ASEAN and it continued until 2013 when it hosted APEC meetings and the WTO ministerial conference. In other words, we don’t take either extreme liberalization or anti-liberalization, but instead seek middle ground, a win-win position.

You will also deal with trade remedy cases. What will you do regarding this task?

We saw the number of trade remedy cases involving Indonesia in past years surge as its exports climbed and other countries also stepped up efforts to secure their trade. From 2007 to 2009 amid the global crisis, Indonesia’s economy still expanded robustly against the global trend.

As it gained a stronger position on the global map, Indonesia was increasingly scrutinized by other nations. A number of countries were also fearful that Indonesia, which was considered more protectionist than before, still posted high economic growth and could serve as a model for other countries.

I estimate that the number of trade remedy cases worldwide will continue to rise and Indonesia should, therefore, enhance its capacity to handle trade disputes both in the WTO or outside the WTO, both at the government-to-government [G2G] level and business-to-business [B2B] level.

My priority will be to solve the disputes in the bilateral consultation phase so we won’t have to proceed to further dispute settlement processes, which would be lengthy and costly. But that does not mean that we will compromise on our interests.

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