Subject: Portugal, Indonesia Celebrate 10 Years Of New Friendship [+RI-New Zealand FTA Agreement]

The Jakarta Post

Friday, June 26, 2009

Portugal, Indonesia Celebrate 10 Years Of New Friendship

Veeramalla Anjaiah , The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In politics, we do not have a permanent friend or foe. Likewise former foes Portugal and Indonesia have now found themselves in a honeymoon period and both are making sincere efforts to make their partnership long-lasting.

The friendship between Portugal and Indonesia is 10 years old this year. Though Portugal recognized Indonesia's independence on Dec. 28, 1949, and opened its first counselor office in Jakarta on May 13, 1950, both countries had a kind of cold war for more than three decades on the issue of East Timor (now Timor Leste).

"In the recent years, our bilateral relations have accelerated. Why? Because the political contacts are becoming more and more frequent. It's a new time, a new era," Portugal's new Ambassador to Indonesia Carlos Manuel Leitao Frota told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview at his office in Jakarta.

Ambassador Frota, an adept career diplomat, submitted his letter of credence to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on April 21, 2009.

Several senior officials, including both countries' foreign ministers, from Portugal and Indo-nesia met either in Jakarta or Lisbon recently or on the sidelines of international meetings at various places. In the coming months, the interaction will be more intensive.

"In one or two months time, our Prime Minister (Jose Socrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa) will visit Indonesia to enhance our bilateral relationship," Frota said while adding the exact dates of the visit are yet to be finalized due to the July 8 presidential elections in Indonesia.

While commenting on the overall relationship, Frota said the relations are progressing quite well despite the fact that both countries have much to do in many fields.

"In 10 years, we did have some achievements. But it is not sufficient. For both countries, now the question is how can we improve our economic ties? How can we improve our cultural ties? How can we diversify our relationship in different domains?"

In the political arena, Frota said, though the political dialogue has become more frequent at the highest level, it does not have a legal framework.

"That's why, we will soon sign a memorandum of understanding regarding political consultations," Frota said.

In the economic field, Frota continued, the bilateral trade has been growing but it is still far below the potential of both countries.

"The trade between the two countries is very low. So it's my job now to create opportunities for our businesspeople to meet their Indonesian counterparts in order to find a common ground to develop business opportunities."

In fact, the bilateral trade value was doubled in the last five years. In 2008, the trade surged to US$111.15 million, a huge jump from $52.40 million in 2003. And the balance of trade is heavily in favor of Indonesia (see the graphic).

Portugal mainly exports machinery, electronic devices, plastic and toys to Indonesia and imports coal, palm oil, textiles, furniture, shoes and coffee from the Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

When asked the reasons for the low level of trade, Frota cited two main reasons.

"The countries are far away and there is a lack of knowledge about Indonesia in Portugal and vice versa. People from both sides are not totally informed about the potential of both countries."

In order to overcome these problems, both Portugal and Indonesia have planned solutions.

"For our part, we are planning to organize a business seminar to raise the awareness among businesspeople. A huge business delegation from Portugal will be coming along with my Prime Minister to Jakarta. That will be the right moment to have a meeting between the businesspeople of both countries," Frota said.

During the Prime Minister's visit, it is expected that both countries will sign two agreements: one is on protection and promotion of investment and the other is on economic and technical cooperation.

"These two agreements are very important to enhance our economic relations."

In the cultural field also, both countries are expected to sign an agreement on cooperation in culture, education, science and technology.

"With these agreements, we will reestablish formally our relations in the economic and cultural fields. We have centuries-old historical links. We must try to maximize these links," Frota said.

The Portuguese came to Indonesia five centuries ago.

According to Frota, bilateral relations are not always exclusively "official". "We have to promote more people-to-people relations in order to strengthen the relationship between the two nations."

According to Indonesian Foreign Ministry, at least 13, 000 Portuguese tourists visited Indonesia last year.

While commenting on his main mission, Frota said he will put all his energy in revitalizing the relations in all fields.

"I have a broad mandate. In general terms, I will try to enhance economic and cultural links between the two countries. I will also focus on increasing interaction between the members of the civil societies in both countries."

Perhaps for this mission, Frota is the right man in the right position at the right time, given his experience and background.

Frota, a lawyer turned diplomat, joined the foreign service in 1979. During his three decades of distinguished diplomatic service, Frota worked in three continents: Africa, Europe and Asia. He is also a poet who has published two books.

When asked about views on Indonesia Frota said, "Indonesian people are very friendly. They have a diversified culture. We [also] very much admire the political process of democratization in Indonesia."


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