Category: Diplomacy

Jakarta’s zero tariff move to lift Palestinian imports

The Indonesian market could be a testing ground for Palestinian exports’ competitiveness following the introduction of a zero tariff policy.

An agreement with Indonesia on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products came into effect in mid-February after 2.5 years since the idea was floated in Oct 2016.

The initial waiver will apply to fresh and dried dates, and virgin olive oil. Palestine has asked for about 20 export products to be included in the policy.

Tariffs previously were set at 5 percent.

Djatmiko Bris Witjaksono, director of foreign trade analysis and trade center at the Ministry of Trade, said the agreement offers preferential treatment for Palestinian imports, but it will be up to the business community to show its willingness to buy the products.

“Palestine may have to compete with similar products imported from other countries. If the supply and product continuity is reliable, importers will eventually buy from them,” he said.

“The tariff exemption is significant and should be reflected in the products’ pricing in the market. Eventually it will boost the competitiveness of Palestinian products in Indonesia.” Witjaksono said.

Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, vice chairwoman of international relations at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the zero tariff policy will boost trade between the two countries.

“Now we have to look at the market opportunity to identify the goods from Indonesia we can export and vice versa. It looks like there is a market there for our food and beverage products,” she said.

Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said the elimination of Indonesian tariffs on Palestinian dates and olive oil began on Feb. 21, when Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to Palestine.

Zuhair Al-Shun, Palestine’s ambassador to Indonesia, was also told about the tariff move in a meeting with Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Feb. 28.

“We hope we will be able to enjoy Palestinian dates in the upcoming Ramadan,” Lukita said in a joint press conference with Palestinian Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al-Shun after meeting the vice president on Feb. 28.

Both countries are considering expanding the policy to create a preferential trading agreement, the trade minister said.

Al-Shun said Palestine has provided a list of products to be considered for preferential treatment by Indonesia.

“The list is being reviewed by the Indonesian government. We also welcome Indonesian products that will be exported to Palestine,” Al-Shun said.

Lukita said the trade agreement is part of Indonesia’s unwavering support for Palestine.

Trade between Indonesia and Palestine was worth $3.5 million in 2018. Indonesian exports to Palestine include coffee, tea, bread and other foodstuffs, while dates and olive oil make up the bulk of its imports.

According to data from Statistics Indonesia, trade between Indonesia and Palestine reached US$3.5 million in 2018. The zero tariff policy is expected to boost date imports by 11.62 percent within a year.

Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, AM Fachir said the idea to provide preferential treatment for Palestinian products was first floated by members of Palestinian trade delegation attending an international trade expo in Jakarta in Oct 2016.

Lukita and his Palestinian counterpart formalized the idea in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) they signed on the sidelines of the 11th World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina in Dec 2017, during which Indonesia also endorsed Palestine to be a WTO member.

The MoU was then ratified in Indonesia into a presidential regulation in April 2018, followed by Lukita and Al Shun signing the formal agreement in Jakarta in Aug 2018.

Ministry of Finance then issued two ministerial regulations — on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products and on the technical direction for customs offices to execute the policy.

Issuing the two regulations was the last phase along Indonesia’s legislation process to allow the full implementation of the agreement since they will be circulated to all ports of entry so that customs officers can identify products from Palestine and exempt them from any import duties.

Read the original story here in Arab News

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Russia denies meddling in Indonesian election

Russia on Monday denied involvement in attempts to influence the outcome of Indonesia’s upcoming election, after incumbent President Joko Widodo accused the campaign of opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto of spreading “Russian propaganda.”

The Russian embassy in Jakarta said the accusations of Russian involvement – levelled by Jokowi during a campaign stop in Surabaya on Saturday – had “no basis in reality.” 

“We would like to underline that our principled position is that we don’t interfere in the domestic affairs and electoral processes of other countries, including Indonesia as our close friend and important partner,” the embassy said via Twitter.

During the campaign stop, Jokowi claimed that “there is a campaign team that is spreading what is called Russian propaganda, which involves incessant streams of lies and slander.” 

He was alluding to the controversy in the United States about the supposed Russian interference in the 2016 election using a propaganda model called “the firehose of falsehood.”

Jokowi faces former general Prabowo in the April 17 presidential election in a repeat of the vote five years ago, which the president won by a narrow margin. 

The opposition says the president has a dismal economic record after nearly five years in office and that he is too cozy with China.   

Jokowi has picked conservative Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate in a move seen by some as an attempt to bolster his religious credentials amid accusations that he is hostile to Muslim political aspirations. 

Indonesia to allow tariff-free import of Palestinian dates, olive oil

Indonesia and Palestine have signed an agreement that will allow for zero tariffs on some Palestinian goods imported into Indonesia from next month.

The agreement serves as the implementing guidelines that follows the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and his Palestinian counterpart on the sidelines of the 11th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last December. The MoU allows zero import tariffs for certain goods between the two countries.

“It will be one-way trade from Palestine to Indonesia at the start, but we expect in the future it will be a two-way trade,” the Trade Ministry’s Director General for International Trade Negotiations Iman Pambagyo said.

The initial Palestinian products that will be exempted from import tariffs are fresh and dried dates and virgin olive oil. Pambagyo said that, during the first year of the agreement, dates imported from Palestine are estimated to increase by 11.62 percent, while olive oil is estimated to jump by 172 percent, as a lot of Indonesian cosmetic manufacturers use olive oil as an ingredient in their products.

“We will encourage our importers to benefit from this policy by sourcing their olive oil and dates from Palestine,” Pambagyo added.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the business community welcomed the agreement and its upcoming implementation.

“We have always encouraged the government to expedite the MoU implementation. This policy would be beneficial for importers since it would make the products more competitive in the domestic market,” he said.

He added the policy will not hit other imported goods, given the big market opportunities for dates, which are widely consumed by Indonesians.

Lukita and Palestinian Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al-Shun signed the agreement on Monday following the ratification of the MoU into a presidential regulation in April.

The finance minister will allow the MoU to fully take effect by issuing two ministerial regulations — on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products and on the technical direction for customs offices to execute the policy.

Pambagyo said these regulations will be circulated to all ports of entry so that customs officers can identify products from Palestine and exempt them from any import duties.

Lukita said this policy was part of Indonesia’s unwavering support for the Palestinian issue, which has always been the focus of its foreign policy.

Indonesia has been a staunch supporter of Palestinian independence and has pledged to focus on voicing support for Palestine during its tenure as a non-permanent member at the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

Read the full story in Arab News

East Timor’s present and future leaders keep its ASEAN aspiration alive

Despite their political differences, outgoing and incoming leadership of East Timor said that its bid to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a mutual goal that they continue to strive.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said East Timor’s ASEAN membership is “a very long dream.”

“This is one of the few things that is a consensus between the leadership of Timor Leste, despite the differences,” he said in an interview last month at a hotel near the headquarters of his Fretilin party.

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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri with his wife Marina Ribeiro Alkatiri, daughter Nurima Ribeiro Alkatiri and son-in-law Machel Silveira, pose for a photograph after an interview on May 12, 2018. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Alkatiri also described Indonesia as East Timor’s “biggest supporter” in its efforts to join ASEAN.

Indonesia was one of the regional bloc’s founding countries when it was established in 1967, and is regarded as its de facto leader. Indonesia endorsed East Timor’s ASEAN bid when it formally submitted its application in 2011 during Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship.

Alkatiri has been leading a short-lived, minority government and the party lost to a three-party coalition led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) in the May 12 parliamentary election.

Gusmao, who is expected to nominate former president Taur Matan Ruak as the next prime minister this week, said East Timor is doing its best to become an ASEAN member.

“We understand some (member) countries think we are not ready, but sooner or later, we will be a member,” Gusmao said in an interview at his party CNRT headquarters.

Singapore, the current chair, has been reluctant to welcome East Timor into the bloc, but has said it looked forward to East Timor meeting the requirements to allow it to become a member.

So far, East Timor has met two of the requirements to be an ASEAN member: The country is located in Southeast Asia and has embassies in all 10 member states.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after hosting an ASEAN leaders’ summit in April that the topic was discussed during the forum, but “there was no extended discussion of the matter in this meeting.”

Luis da Costa Ximenes, director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun said there is a different level of regional engagement with fellow civil society organizations in neighboring countries.

He added that members of the network have been lending support for each other in their advocacy on various issues such as human rights and development.

“There are national East Timor issues, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that is also a regional issue,” he said.

“Civil societies in East Timor is already part of the civil societies network in Southeast Asia and at this level, we always campaign for East Timor’s admission to ASEAN,” Ximenes said.

Veteran Thai journalist and long time ASEAN observer Kavi Chongkittavorn said it is Singapore that East Timor, which is one of the most democratic country in the region, has to convince to secure support for its ASEAN admission.

“East Timor membership in ASEAN is long overdue,” Kavi said, acknowledging that East Timor officials would still need capacity-building training and other preparations in the political security, economy and social cultural communities, as the other previous new members did before they gained admission to the bloc.

He added that East Timor’s admission to ASEAN is also about the democratic attitude in the region and Thailand, which will assume the next bloc chairmanship after Singapore, would admit East Timor for good.

“East Timor’s membership to ASEAN will increase the democratic weight within the grouping,” he said.

Read the full interview with East Timor’s outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in Arab News

Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

Sally Piri’s plan to take her mother on a tour of the holy sites in the occupied West Bank this year may be put on hold after Israel’s recent move to ban Indonesian passport holders from entering the territory.

She had planned to go with her mother in November and has already paid for the tour, which includes visits to Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and Caesarea, when she read the news that Israel had issued policy starting on June 10 that bans Indonesians to enter Israel.

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“I really hope the policy will change so tourists like us who want to go on pilgrimage tours can still go. My travel agent told me they are still waiting for results of negotiations between their local partners and the authorities in Israel to have the policy revoked,” Sally said.

“My mother said she has been everywhere and now she just wants to go to the holy land,” she added.

Syuhelmaidi Syukur, a senior vice president of Jakarta-based humanitarian group Aksi Cepat Tanggap, said the ban will not disrupt the group’s humanitarian assistance for people in Palestine.

“We have rarely sent our own humanitarian workers there for the past two years, so we distribute our aid with the help of our local partners and fellow humanitarian groups in Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said.

Last week’s blanket ban for Indonesian tourists was, according to media reports, a tit-for-tat response to Indonesia’s decision to suspend visas already issued to Israeli citizens, suggesting that the visa cancellation was Indonesia’s response to the violence in Gaza in which Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians and injured thousands during recent protests to mark the Nakba.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said last week that Israel had been trying to reverse Indonesia’s decision but to no avail, which resulted in Israel reciprocating the move.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly confirmed on Friday that there were 53 Israeli nationals who had been denied visas to enter Indonesia.

“It was a clearing (house) decision that we have to carry out. We can’t disclose the reason because it’s a sensitive matter. It is our sovereign right to accept or reject visa (applications) from other countries,” Laoly told journalists at the Foreign Ministry.

Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but an Israeli passport holder can still get an Indonesian visa through the “calling visa” mechanism which is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia has no diplomatic relations.

The calling visa application is reviewed and granted by a clearing house which involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead, and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

Both Laoly and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi denied there had been initial talks about diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel or the possibility of Indonesia granting free visas to Israeli nationals.

“Indonesia continues to be with Palestine in their struggle for independence and their rights. Our foreign policy to take sides with Palestine is very clear,” Marsudi said.

The story first appeared in Arab News

Saudi couple meet Indonesian maid they forgave for murder of their child

A Saudi couple from Tabuk have met the Indonesian domestic helper they pardoned after she was sentenced to death for murdering their 11-month-old child in 2009.

Ghalib Nasir Al-Hamri Al-Balawi and his wife arrived in Indonesia on May 3 for a week-long stay, which included a visit to Cirebon in West Java to meet Masamah bint Raswa Sanusi and her family.

“I didn’t seek for anything else by giving her pardon but God’s mercy,” Al-Balawi said through a translator during a press conference at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Jakarta on Monday.

He said that he was very impressed with the hospitality showed by Indonesia during their first visit to the country.

Arief Hidayat, an official from the Foreign Ministry’s Directorate for Protection of Indonesian Citizens Abroad, said that the couple’s visit was facilitated by the Indonesian Consulate General in Jeddah in appreciation of the couple’s compassion and willingness to forgive Masamah.

“We took them to Cirebon by train and they were greeted by the acting Cirebon district head upon arrival,” Hidayat said, adding that they also took the couple to the safari park in Cisarua in the mountainous Puncak area, a popular destination for tourists from Middle Eastern countries.

Masamah’s lengthy trial began in 2009 after local authorities accused her of murdering Al-Balawi’s child after they found her fingerprints on the baby’s face.

Masamah has always maintained her innocence and said that she only rubbed the baby’s face after she found it unconscious. She was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 but the district attorney appealed and she was sentenced to death in 2016.

During her appeal trial in March 2017, Al-Balawi pardoned her and decided not to demand blood money, but Masamah still had to serve the remaining two and a half years of her prison sentence.

She was released from prison in January and stayed at the consulate general’s shelter until she was cleared to leave and return to Indonesia in March.

Al-Balawi and his wife’s visit came after the execution of an Indonesian national who had been working as a driver, Muhammad Zaini Misrin on March 18 after a court has found him guilty of murdering his employer in 2005. The news of Misrin’s execution caused a national outrage.

The Indonesian government said they didn’t received notification prior to his execution and said that the execution was untimely as Misrin was undergoing another legal avenue to have his case reviewed.

Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, Osamah bin Mohammad Al-Shuaibi said the Saudi authorities had done their part to inform the Indonesian embassy about Misrin’s execution including a notification on the day of the execution before it was carried out.

“What we need to do now is inform those who want to visit Saudi Arabia about the law and that they have to follow the rules in Saudi Arabia. It is our duty to explain to them,” Al Shuaibi said.

“We have to respect the laws in our respective countries,” he added.

Hidayat said there are 20 Indonesians on death row in Saudi prisons and Indonesian officials in Saudi Arabia were making sure that their legal rights were met.

“But it would not annul the crimes that they committed,” he added.

This article has been expanded from its original version in Arab News

Indonesia rebuffs claims it issues tourist visas for Israelis

The Indonesian government said Sunday it was not issuing tourist visas for Israeli passport holders, debunking a report from an Israeli news outlet, which claimed that it was accepting applications for tourist visas from Israelis.

Agung Sampurno, a spokesman for the immigration department of Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said that there was no tourist visa specifically for Israelis as Indonesia already has a free-visa policy for nationals from 169 countries to enter the country for tourist or leisure purposes.

Israel is not included on the list since Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

“Our visa policy has not change in accordance with our foreign policy,” Sampurno said.

Israeli news portal Haaretz.com reported on Thursday that Israelis could soon see the “gorgeous destinations” that they “could only see in the movies” by applying for a tourist visa to Indonesia beginning on May 1, and the report described the process as “expensive and lengthy.”

According to the report – which did not provide information from the Indonesian authorities – Israelis can apply for the visa through the “Israel Indonesia Agency” and that “talks are underway to let Israelis get their Indonesia visa in Israel.”

“The news report that said Indonesia was giving out tourist visas to Israel is a hoax” Sampurno said.

The agency’s website was still accessible on Friday but was no longer so on Sunday. According to the website, a single-entry visa costs applicants $135, with which they can stay for 30 days, and an extension for another 30 days will cost applicants $35.

According to the website, “in April 2018, the Ministry of Immigration of the Republic of Indonesia decided to open up a temporary visa quota for Israeli passports to travel to Indonesia under all foreign visa categories to determine the impact and potential of increased bilateral relations between the nations.”

It also featured pictures of a white sandy beach with turquoise blue water and a destination believed to be Raja Ampat, a cluster of 1,500 jungle-covered small islands known as a diver’s paradise and located on West Papua province on the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago.

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Screenshots from the now-defunct Israel Indonesia Agency website, which claimed it offered assistance for Israeli passport holders to secure tourist visas to Indonesia.

“There is no such ‘Ministry of Immigration’ in Indonesia,” Sampurno said.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry said the Indonesian government institution in charge of any immigration issues is the Directorate General of Immigration, which is part of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

“The Directorate General of Immigration of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Republic of Indonesia neither recognize nor has relations with Israel Indonesia Agency.”

The statement also said the information in the agency’s website was “wrong and misleading” and that the only way for Israeli passport holders to secure Indonesian visa was through the “calling visa” process.

Sampurno said the calling visa mechanism is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations.

The decision to grant a calling visa involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

“The visa holder’s whereabouts is limited to a certain place. For example, if the holder stated in the application the place would be in Jakarta, the visa holder can’t go further even to the suburbs of Jakarta and the visa holder can only enter Indonesia through Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport,” Sampurno said.

“There will also be constant monitoring from the authorities to the calling visa holder,” he added.

The story was first published in Arab News