After a record year of trade with Canada, the Indonesian government has launched a series of initiatives with local businesses and groups in B.C.
The efforts focus on Indonesia’s agricultural products and aim to keep historic trade figures rising.
“We bring the food that comes from our farming across the country.… They are all healthy, because we make them from nature, from our land and seas,” said Andri Satria Permana, director of the Indonesian Trade Promotion Center in Vancouver, at a food tasting event for local businesspeople last month.
“We have around 70,000 islands, so we have abundant resources in fisheries and agriculture. The diversity of Indonesian food is one of our advantages to bring our products to the B.C. and Canadian markets.”
The event, held at the centre in Gastown, featured a diverse selection of food cooked with organic Indonesian ingredients, including coconut sugar, palm syrup, Bali salt, heirloom rice, veggie noodles, natural food colourants and various spices.
It was the first time the Indonesian government flew local entrepreneurs to Canada to present the country’s agricultural products. Promoting Indonesian agriculture and fisheries will be the embassy’s priority in 2023; it’s part of Indonesia’s ambitious plan to break its status quo trade with Canada and grow to be Canada’s major trade partner.
“For the past 70 years of Indonesian-Canadian relations, we only saw business as usual. But we would like to bring more of an impact from our people and unlock more potential for both countries,” Hendra Halim, consul general of Indonesia in Vancouver, told BIV.
“British Columbia has the highest trade value with Indonesia compared to other Canadian provinces. It is our gateway to Canada and main hub to increase Indonesia-Canada trade.”
For decades, the trade between the two countries has been steady.
The value of Canada-Indonesia trade reached a record high of $6.2 billion in 2022 – a 47-per-cent increase from the previous record of $4.2 billion in 2021, making Indonesia Canada’s 19th-largest trade partner.
Before that, Indonesia’s highest ranking was 23rd in 2015.
The increase can be attributed to a surge in exports in farm, fishing and intermediate food products, and metal ores and non-metal minerals, along with a rise in imports of industrial machinery, equipment and parts, electronic and electrical equipment and parts, and consumer goods.
Halim attributed the growth to Indonesia’s promotional efforts, which include arranging regular business trips to Indonesia for Canadian businesspeople, and the country’s economic growth.
As the largest economy in Southeast Asia and one of the world’s emerging market economies, Indonesia had a 5.31 per cent increase in GDP last year – its highest growth rate in nine years. The country aims to become the world’s fifth-largest economy by 2035.
“Everybody knows about Indonesia but fewer recognize our potential economic value and the economic opportunities there,” Halim said.
The looming Canada-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement is expected to further enhance partnerships between the two countries.
Four rounds of negotiations have taken place since March 2022 and a fifth round of negotiations is scheduled for May in Ottawa.
“It could be expedited, and then we can complete [the agreement], so that all people from both countries could benefit and take advantage of this, to increase trade,” said Halim.
Apart from economic growth, Halim said the country’s growing population – and its predominantly young population – makes Indonesia an attractive market and investment destination for B.C. businesses.
By 2035, the Indonesian population is expected to reach 300 million. More than 50 per cent will be under 30 years old.
“Our domestic purchasing power is very high compared to other Asian countries,” said Halim, adding that the income per capita in Indonesia is expected to hit US$5,000 by 2035.
“[Businesses] have to know about the Indonesian human capital.… With many skilled people in Indonesia, it is well positioned for B.C. businesses to invest, open companies and factories, and use it as a market hub for Asia, especially Southeast Asia.”
Canadian products, such as mineral resources, digital solutions and renewable energy, are in high demand in Indonesia, a country that’s experiencing high-paced development, he added.
“Don’t ignore us,” said Halim. “When it comes to trade and diaspora, people always think about China, Vietnam, etc. but they should not ignore Indonesia, because they will miss many opportunities if they don’t know about us.”