Indonesia optimistic about WTO complaint against US penalties on its biodiesel

Indonesia is optimistic the World Trade Organization (WTO) will rule in its favor on its complaint against the US Department of Commerce’s policy to impose anti-subsidy duties on Indonesian biodiesel exports.

“We are filing a complaint to the WTO. We won a similar dispute against the European Union so it’s proven that we don’t practice dumping and subsidy,” Trade Ministry’s Director General of Foreign Trade Oke Nurwan said.

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A palm oil plantation in Riau. Indonesia’s biodiesel is made mainly from crude palm oil. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

In November, the US Department of Commerce imposed duties in the range of 34.45 – 64.73 percent to counter the alleged dumping of Indonesia’s biodiesel shipment.

Paulus Tjakrawan, vice chairman of Indonesia’s Biodiesel Producers Association said Indonesian biodiesel companies and the government have filed the case at the US Court of International Trade in New York ahead of the February 3 deadline.

“We think that their policy is incorrect,” Tjakrawan said.

“The government and industry players have agreed that it requires a joint effort to file the case,” Nurwan added.

Nurwan said the Indonesian government has also sent a letter of objection to the US commerce department but according to Zelda Kartika, director of American affairs at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, there has been no response to Indonesia’s objection.

The EU in 2013 had imposed 8.8 to 23.3 percent dumping margin on the commodity. Indonesia challenged the decision with the WTO in 2014 with and in January the WTO ruled in favor of six out of Indonesia’s seven points in the case.

According data from the Central Statistics Agency released by the Trade Ministry, EU’s anti-dumping policy had caused Indonesia’s biodiesel exports to decline by 42.84 percent to US$150 million in 2016 from $649 million in 2013, . Indonesia’s biodiesel export to the EU was at the lowest in 2015 at only US$68 million.

Nurwan said the WTO ruling can serve as a reference for all authorities conducting anti-dumping investigations to be consistent with WTO rules, notably during the investigation process.

“Our commitment is to secure markets for Indonesia’s exports to be able to compete in export destination countries’ markets, such as the EU. Meanwhile, for other countries’ investigation authorities, this case could serve as a evaluation material to be prudent when accusing Indonesia of practicing dumping, “ Nurwan said after the WTO made its decision.

Indonesia’s biodiesel is made mainly from crude palm oil. According to data from Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association, the total palm oil export in 2017, including biodiesel, oleochemical and crude palm oil was 32,184 million tons, an increase from 26,573 million tons in the previous year.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in her annual press statement on January 9 that Indonesia would continue the fight against negative campaign and discrimination of its palm oil in the EU and the US.

“Indonesia shall not stand by idly,” she told an audience of ambassadors in Jakarta.

The story first appeared in Arab News




West Java family live with dead relatives for two years

A woman and her two children lived with the corpses of her husband and a third child for two years in Indonesia’s West Java province, local media reported.

The discovery was made when a health worker came to the family’s house in Cimahi district on Tuesday to check on the husband, who had not been seen for more than two years, reported.

“[The widow] explained that they did not bury them because she had received a revelation from God through an angel that they would return to life,” local police chief Sutarman was quoted as saying.

The family initially refused to open the front door, but relented when the worker returned with a soldier and local officials, the news portal said.

Inside, authorities found two skeletal bodies, covered in blankets.

The remains belonged to a 84-year-old man and his daughter, 50. They were believed to have died of illness in January and December 2016, respectively, local police said.

Neighbours said they had smelled the stench for two years but the family had never allowed them to enter the house, the reports said.

Sutarman said autopsies were not conducted because there were no signs that they were the victims of violence. The woman and her two children would undergo psychiatric examinations, police said.

Police release transgender women after re-education

Police in Indonesia’s sharia-ruled province of Aceh said Tuesday they had released 12 transgender women after they agreed to act and dress as men.  Continue reading “Police release transgender women after re-education”

Police round up transvestites in Aceh province

Police in Indonesia’s Aceh province, where Islamic law is enforced, rounded up 12 transvestites and made them wear male clothing, a news report said Monday.

The transvestites were arrested on Sunday in several beauty parlours where they were working in North Aceh district as part of a crackdown on what authorities call “social ills,” local police chief Untung Surianata told the state-run Antara news agency.

“These transvestites will be re-educated so they can be real men,” Surianata was quoted as saying.

The officer said they were shaved and told to wear male clothing.

“Officers also asked them to run briefly and scream from the top of their lungs so that their male voices came out,” he added.

Under a version of Islamic law in place in the semi-autonomous Aceh, men who dress as women are not allowed to serve female customers at beauty salons.

Aceh is the only Indonesian province allowed to impose sharia as part of the central government’s attempts to appease a drive for independence in the region.

But elsewhere in Indonesia, sexual minorities have also been subjected to discrimination.

Police in the country’s two largest cities have raided gay clubs and briefly detained dozens of people suspected of engaging in gay prostitution.

The government has also sought to block gay-friendly mobile apps that it says promote “sexual deviance.”

ASEAN finalizing intelligence-sharing initiative ahead of defense ministers’ Singapore meeting

Defense officials from six Southeast Asian nations are finalizing the Our Eyes intelligence-sharing initiative, which will be formally introduced at the upcoming ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Retreat in Singapore early next month.

Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand had a “soft launch” of the initiative in Bali on Jan 25, said Maj. Gen. Hartind Asrin, the director general for defense strategy at Indonesia’s Defense Ministry.

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Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, witnessed by senior defense officials from Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, struck a gong to mark the soft launch of the Our Eyes pact. Photo: Kemhan RI

But senior defense officials will still have to meet again before the retreat on Feb 6, where defense ministers from the six ASEAN members states will formally sign the initiative, which aims to increase cooperation in responding to security threats in the region.

“We have reached 90 percent of the agreement and we will need to meet at least one more time to finalize streamlining our perspectives before the retreat,” Hartind said.

He added defense ministers from the six ASEAN nations will sign the agreement, while the other four members states – Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam – will participate as observers in the pact, but are expected to formally join later along with Australia, Japan and the United States as possible future members.

Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu proposed the pact in October last year during the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting in Clark, the Philippines, as an expansion of the trilateral security cooperation that Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines set up in 2016.

The trilateral cooperation was established to counter the movement of militants and extremists in the porous maritime borders between the three countries and after a series of piracy and kidnapping of Southeast Asian sailors – mainly Indonesians – in the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas by militants linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group based in the southern Philippines.

The cooperation has resulted in joint air patrols launched in Malaysia’s Subang air base in early October and joint maritime patrols that began in Sabah, Malaysia earlier in 2017.

“After conducting the patrols, we realized that we need to have intelligence-sharing so we can better monitor the movement of terrorists and militants,” Hartind said.

After signing the agreement, each defense minister will form a task force comprising senior defense officials who gather information from security stakeholders in their respective countries. The officials will meet every two weeks to exchange information on the cross-border movement of militants.

Hartind said the six countries have committed to be more open in sharing more intelligence, dismissing what observers described as a possible challenge for the pact to work due to lingering distrust between the ASEAN member states.

The Our Eyes was inspired by the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing pact between the United States and its allies.

“The soft launch of Our Eyes could be the initial barometer for cooperation between the six Southeast Asian nations most impacted by terrorism and radicalism,” Ryacudu said during the launch in Bali.

“Each country has its own way of dealing with threats, therefore it requires synergy and coordination to obtain strategic information,” the retired general added.

Also present at the launch were defense officials from the other five countries representing their respective defense ministers.

Earlier in the week, after meeting his American counterpart James Mattis in Jakarta, Ryacudu said the US had pledged to assist the six nations in gathering intelligence.

“The US will help us with sophisticated equipment, hopefully [the militants] would be detected quickly,” Ryacudu said at a joint press conference with Mattis.

Mattis said the threat by fighters affiliated with the Islamic State in the southern Mindanao in the Philippines is proof that no country can resolve security challenges alone.

“America is deeply committed to the Indo-Pacific region and building on a long history of close cooperation on economic, diplomatic and security issues,” Mattis said.

The original story appeared in Arab News

Indonesia continues crusade against black campaign of its crucial commodity

After battling against what it called an unfair global campaign on its palm oil industry in 2017, Indonesia has vowed to continue the fight against one of its key economic drivers that generated more than US$17 billion exports in 2016.

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A palm oil plantation in Riau, Sumatra. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in her annual press statement on January 9 that palm oil – one of Indonesia’s main and strategic products – “faces negative campaigns and discrimination in Europe and the United States.”“Indonesia shall not stand by idly,” she told an audience of foreign ambassadors.

She added Indonesia was stepping up its efforts to counter anti-palm oil campaigns and to promote a sustainable palm oil production with all stakeholders,including the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC).

President Joko Widodo raised the issue during the Asean-EU Summit in Manila in early November 2017 and later in the month during their annual bilateral consultation, Widodo called on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to be jointly up in arms against discriminative attitude and policies toward palm oil.

The European Parliament last April called on the European Commission to take measures to phase out by 2020 the use of vegetable oils including palm oil, which the parliament said has caused deforestation. The parliament also notes that biofuel imported into the EU, 23% is derived from palm oil and most of it is from Indonesia.

The palm oil industry in Indonesia has also been blamed for rights violations including child labor, seasonal forest fires that sends choking haze to neighboring countries, and rapid loss of biodiversity and natural habitats of some of the world’s most endangered species such as the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger.

Greenpeace has slammed the government for being so defensive towards EU’s stance. The group said as a party to the 2016 Paris climate accord, Indonesia should not view EU policies as detrimental to the industry and the economy.

“The government should be ashamed that deforestation, forest burning, land grabs and exploitative work system still occur. Land expansion is also ongoing not just in Sumatra and Kalimantan but it has encroached on forests in Papua,” Ade Komarudin, Greenpeace Indonesia’s forest campaigner said in a statement.

Citing data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Komarudin said palm oil plantations had expanded from 8.3 million hectare in 2010 to 12.3 million in 2017, encroaching on more protected forest and peatlands.

In a bid to show that palm oil industry in Indonesia is not as bad as it has been projected to be and highlight the positive steps being taken, the Foreign Ministry jointly organized a three-week palm oil course last year with the team from Collaborative Research Center 990 or CRC 990, which brings together three Indonesian universities and the University of Göttingen in Germany.

The course participants were researchers, business consultants, environmental activists, academicians and diplomat from Germany, Italy, Colombia, Malaysia, Singapore, Spain and Indonesia. They visited palm oil plantation sites in Jambi and lived for a few days with palm oil smallholder farmers, who account for 40% out of the country’s producers.

Markus Wolter, the program officer for agricultural commodities and animal husbandry at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Germany in Berlin, was one of the participants and said that the course provided an opportunity to look into different aspects of palm oil production and that it was “invaluable” to see and to feel how the smallholders work and live.

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An oil palm smallholder harvesting in his plantation in Riau. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

“It was really good to see how palm oil is improving the livelihoods of the smallholders,” Wolter said, adding that the experience had completed his understanding of the whole supply chain and how important palm oil is for the economy.

Indonesia is the top palm oil producer in the world with more than 35 million tonnes output, 25 million of which is exported around the world. The EU is Indonesia’s second largest export destination and the export volume to EU in 2016 was 4.4 million tonnes, an increase of 3% from 2015.

The industry provides job opportunities for about three million people and is the main source of income for many smallholders, therefore the government regards the industry and plantation as having significant roles in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in Indonesia, including poverty alleviation and narrowing the development gap.

Winandriyo Kun Anggianto, a civil servant at the Foreign Ministry who also took part in the program, said that participants – some of whom had never been in Asia let alone visited a palm oil plantation, learned that smallholders in Jambi could earn a net monthly income of around five million rupiah from planting palm oil trees in two hectares of land.

The amount is far higher than two million rupiah provincial minimum wage in Jambi.

“They could earn a lot more if they don’t hire daily workers to help them,” he said, adding that the participants were also able to see that child labor allegations were not always the case on the ground, where children occasionally helping their parents to work in the field is part of the local custom.

“The children are not formally employed but they lend their hands to their parents, which is normal in their existing social system. They don’t even always do that, just occasionally when they are on holiday and out of school hours,” Winandriyo said.

Participants agreed that while there had been some progress on Indonesia’s palm oil practices, there are still rooms for further improvements, such as stricter law enforcement.

Wolter concurred, saying that the government needed strong regulation and law enforcement to deter massive deforestation and to foster certification under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), considered as the world’s flagship certification in the industry that companies can voluntarily apply as their commitment to promote the use of sustainable palm oil.

Wolter also said that the smallholders and environment would benefit if growers adopted the University of Göttingen’s enrichment plots by planting six different tree species, including three fruit trees and three logging trees in between two palm oil trees to diversify the plantation and land cultivation.

“Palm oil is a product that is used all over the world, so what to do now is to do it as sustainable as possible without producing too much greenhouse gases, without deforestation and by avoiding land conflicts,” he said.

The EU Ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guerend told journalists in December that as an export market, the EU is very open to Indonesian palm oil as the duties are very low.

“There is a very high level of concerns in Europe among consumer about their own consumption patterns and the way they behave as citizens, so there is a very strong expectation in Europe to have a sustainable consumer goods and great respect for sustainable palm oil,” Guerend said.

The story first appeared in Bangkok Post


Indonesia struggles with human trafficking networks

In August 2016, Tyas Weningsih Putri left her village in Kendal, Central Java to try her luck for the second time as a migrant worker in Malaysia.

She had been recruited to work in a birds’ nest cultivation factory and expected to receive 900 ringgit salary per month, as stated in her contract.

Continue reading “Indonesia struggles with human trafficking networks”