Government initiatives aim to increase B.C. trade with Indonesia

Incentives on offer for entrepreneurs interested in attending major Jakarta trade expo in October

Clara Kriswanto operates a small Vancouver business selling batik garments sourced in her native Indonesia | Rob Kruyt

Trade between B.C. and Indonesia is slated to rise thanks to initiatives by both governments.

The Indonesian government is courting B.C. entrepreneurs who want to import products from manufacturers in that southeast Asian archipelago nation.

Its Vancouver-based Indonesia Trade Promotion Centre (ITPC) plans to subsidize five-star hotel costs for the first 10 Canadian business owners who register to attend the country’s largest trade expo in Jakarta October 12-16.

Those who sign large contracts or memorandums of understanding to buy Indonesian goods may even get their flights subsidized, said the ITPC’s deputy director, Rizalu Akbar.

The Indonesian initiative is part of what has been a successful campaign in recent years to reduce that country’s trade deficit with Canada, which in 2014 stood at about $485.6 million and was narrowed to $114.2 million in 2015, according to Industry Canada. 

To counteract that trend by boosting Canadian exports, the B.C. government plans to open its second southeast Asian trade and investment office, in Jakarta, “later this year,” B.C. International Trade Minister Teresa Wat told Business in Vancouver in a statement.

Her ministry opened its first trade and investment office in Southeast Asia, in Manila, in May. The province operates 11 other such offices around the world.

“There is a tremendous amount of potential in Indonesia, and we are just beginning to see some of the benefits of this trade relationship,” Wat said. “Jakarta is the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and B.C. will benefit from access to strategic decision makers from across the region.”

Canada’s $1.78 billion in 2015 exports to Indonesia were largely cereals (32.2%), fertilizers (26.8%) and wood pulp (17.5%), while Indonesia’s $1.67 billion in 2015 exports to Canada included clothing (20.5%), rubber (13%) and electrical machinery (9.15%), according to Industry Canada.

Local entrepreneurs who plan to attend the Jakarta trade expo represent a mix of small, medium and large enterprises based in Metro Vancouver.

They will be among the 10,000 visitors converging on the capital of the fourth most populous nation to meet some of the 1,500 Indonesian manufacturers and exporters displaying wares.

“I would never have gone last year if they hadn’t covered some of the costs,” Modern Houseware Imports CEO Shahid Punjani told BIV.

His Burnaby-based venture generates about $15 million in annual revenue from selling cookware, tableware and other products in bulk to businesses through e-commerce or at four showrooms across Canada. It is a division of Burnaby’s C.G. Punjani Investments, which also operates the retail outlet Summit Tools, the wholesale distributor Holland Imports, the decorations wholesaler Christmas Forever and the power-tool wholesaler Samona International.

The parent company has approximately 300 employees and $80 million in annual revenue, said Punjani, whose father founded the business with three brothers.

“Meeting people face to face to establish trust is important,” Punjani said. “It’s better to do business in person than by email or by phone.”

He found last year’s show valuable because he met longtime suppliers of glassware and saw an extensive range of their products.

Vancouver’s Saleh Tjandra similarly had success when he went to the expo last year. He lined up contracts to import candy as part of his Vitic Enterprise, which generates about $200,000 in sales each year by reselling those goods to retailers such as the Overwaitea Food Group’s Asian-themed PriceSmart Foods banner.

In addition to new confectionary suppliers, he is also seeking to find potential partners at this year’s expo – people who want to get involved in a side business that would produce coconut-palm candy to export to Canada.

“The main benefit is to meet the manufacturers because if you deal with a third party, it will be more expensive,” he said.

Small business owners may also be interested in the expo.

Omnita Enterprises owner Clara Kriswanto attended the event last year and plans to do the same thing this year.

She runs a Vancouver-based mail order and consignment venture selling batik garments and she also hosts batik-making workshops and performs presentations.

“I go because I want to meet the artisans,” she said. “We try to help the local Indonesian artisans.” •