Indonesia’s Trade Minister will be summoned to parliament next week to explain why the free-trade deal with Australia is weighted so heavily in Australia’s favour, as both opposition and government MPs warned they would not “rush to ratify” it.
The move casts further doubt over the fate of a deal already hanging in the balance after Jakarta deferred the anticipated signing of the Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement over concerns Canberra was considering shifting its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.
Bill Shorten has accused Scott Morrison of making Australia “look stupid” over the issue by needlessly jeopardising an agreement that took eight years to negotiate and would deliver huge benefits to Australian exporters.
But opposition to the substance of the IA-CEPA, which proposes opening Indonesian markets to Australian majority-owned hospitals, universities and training centres, telecommunications companies and mines, and eliminating tariffs on beef and other agricultural exports, is rising in Indonesia as nationalist rhetoric ramps up ahead of April’s presidential elections.
This week, a lead campaigner for presidential challengers Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno published a scathing attack of the trade deal, demanding it be cancelled and describing it as “ridiculous, over the top and out of line for allowing foreign ownership of 67 per cent”.
“I am not good at math, but you don’t need a calculator to know that allowing foreigners to control more than 50 per cent of shares is the same as relinquishing our sovereignty to another country,” Dian Islamiati Fatwa, an Australian resident running for Indonesian parliament, wrote this week in an article on her Facebook page.
Vice-presidential challenger Sandiaga Uno told The Weekend Australian the team was looking into the IA-CEPA.
“We don’t want to create enemies when it comes to trade but … the bottom line is free trade must also create fair trade,” he said.
“As a big country, we must respect all of our agreements made with our partners but we must also make sure these agreements are not favouring one country.”
Members of Indonesia’s parliamentary committees for trade, industry and investment told The Weekend Australian they were unhappy with the deal and wanted the Trade Minister to explain how it would benefit Indonesia.
Deputy committee chairman Azam Azman Natawijana said both opposition MPs and those from within the ruling coalition opposed the deal. “At the moment we feel that this agreement greatly favours Australia,” said Mr Azam, an MP with the opposition Democratic Party.
“We learned a very painful lesson with the ratification of our trade agreement with China which caused our market to be flooded with cheap Chinese goods and hurt local producers who could not compete. We don’t want to make the same mistake. We have summoned Trade Ministry officials to explain how this agreement will benefit both sides … So we will not rush in ratifying this agreement.”
Several politicians raised concerns over the proposed liberalisation of Indonesia’s healthcare and education industries, and that the deal allowed 95 per cent Australian ownership of Indonesian power plants.