U.S. commerce secretary says talks on Indonesia trade preference to conclude soon

JAKARTA (Reuters) – U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Wednesday Washington’s review of a trade preference facility for Indonesia would conclude soon, and he predicted “far more investment” by U.S. companies in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

The United States Trade Representative (USTR) office has been reviewing Indonesia’s eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) facility for over a year to address concerns about market access for U.S. goods, services and investment.

Speaking after meetings with Indonesian ministers, Ross said both sides had agreed to step up efforts to conclude the review.

“We’re comfortable and confident that very quickly (the outstanding issues) could be resolved,” Ross told reporters during a visit to the Indonesian capital.

“I think we’ll see far more investment from American companies and far more bilateral trade than exist right now.”

There were still two issues to be resolved, Indonesia’s Vice Foreign Minister Mahendra Siregar said, without elaborating.

Siregar, a former Indonesian ambassador to Washington, said he was certain Indonesia would retain the U.S. facility, which reduces duties on $2 billion of Indonesian exports.

“Several countries have been taken out of the GSP list because of their response and the intensity of their meetings … that meant the USTR could do nothing but terminate them,” Siregar said.

“But with us, the level of trust and communication is good. There is no reason for us not to conclude this in a short term.”

U.S. companies including automotive firm Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) and conglomerate Honeywell (NYSE:HON) were seeking business opportunities, and Jakarta had promised improvements in the investment climate, Chief Economic Affairs Minister Airlangga Hartarto said.

Ross was in Jakarta as part of an Indo-Pacific trip, during which the United States has been criticized for not sending higher-lever officials to the East Asian Summit and U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Thailand.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was “fully committed” to Asia, Ross told a business forum in Bangkok on Monday.

He repeated that to reporters in Jakarta. “Any thought that we’re losing interest in this region is totally wrong,” he said, calling Southeast Asia “very, very important”.