There’s a rigidity between Brussels’ environmental considerations and its want to spice up its industrial engagement with the Asia-Pacific.
A view of Jakarta’s central enterprise district by evening.
Credit score: Depositphotos
With the conflict in Ukraine raging and persevering with to disrupt international provide chains, the European Union has sought to hasten negotiations of free commerce agreements (FTAs) with third-party nations. One of many largest potential companion international locations additionally stays among the many most elusive: Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economic system. The nation of 275 million folks boasts a GDP of practically $1.2 trillion and is projected by some to be the world’s seventh-largest economic system by 2030.
Since official negotiations launched in July 2016, 11 rounds of negotiations have taken place. However talks have stalled as disputes persist over the EU’s ban on palm oil and Indonesia’s ban on nickel exports. Nonetheless, Brussels ought to prioritize its geostrategic pursuits within the Indo-Pacific and speed up an settlement by opening its single market to extra sustainable palm oil merchandise in change for negotiating restricted nickel exports from Jakarta.
Whereas the EU has vowed to extend its “strategic engagement” with the Indo-Pacific, the bloc’s phrases are at the moment not matched by its actions. The EU stays absent from Asia’s two largest commerce agreements: the Complete and Progressive Settlement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Complete Financial Partnership. Indonesia boasts the most important economic system in Southeast Asia by far however ranks as simply the fifth-largest buying and selling companion of the EU within the area, behind Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Brussels’ financial absence from the area contrasts with the rising Chinese language financial exercise in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Beijing is Jakarta’s largest buying and selling companion with over $124 billion in bilateral commerce in 2021, greater than quintuple the $24 billion in EU-Indonesia commerce over the identical interval. Introduced in 2021, Brussels’s World Gateway technique has sought to treatment this by supporting infrastructure initiatives in growing international locations, positioning itself as a substitute for China’s Belt and Highway Initiative (BRI). However China has already supported $740 billion value of BRI initiatives in Southeast Asia alone, greater than double the $295 billion that the EU goals to boost by 2027 for World Gateway initiatives worldwide. The “world’s regulator” can’t write the foundations of the worldwide buying and selling system in a area the place it’s insufficiently current.
Furthermore, within the court docket of public opinion, Brussels is effectively positioned to barter an FTA with Indonesia. Amid intensifying nice energy competitors, many Indonesians belief Brussels and its intentions excess of these of Beijing or Washington. Whereas 40 and 37 p.c of Indonesians view China and america as a menace to Indonesia, respectively, solely round 2 percent mentioned the identical concerning the EU.
However the EU’s palm oil restrictions have considerably hindered FTA negotiations. In 2018, the European Parliament announced plans to remove the usage of palm oil for biofuels by 2030 attributable to its contributions to land clearing and deforestation. In 2019, Indonesia accused the EU of commerce discrimination and filed a lawsuit on the World Commerce Group (WTO), which stays pending ultimate adjudication. Because the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia views the business that employs 16 million domestic workers as important. The EU’s ban arguably does little greater than threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of Indonesian farmers and will accomplish an obverse impact: Indonesia would possibly cease investing in inexperienced certification requirements for its palm oil altogether and enhance exports to different markets like China with a purpose to maintain earnings.
Additional tensions emerged after Indonesia banned nickel ore exports in 2020. Nickel is important to be used in electrical car batteries and chrome steel manufacturing, the latter of which accounts for $19 billion in annual revenues and over 200,000 jobs in Europe. Whereas Jakarta was beforehand the world’s largest nickel exporter, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has since restricted this to bolster international funding in home nickel smelters and downstream operations. Because the EU’s chrome steel business registers its lowest production levels in a decade, Indonesia seems to be poised to grow to be the world’s second largest nickel producer after China. In 2021, the EU sued Indonesia on the WTO, a dispute that Jokowi has acknowledged Indonesia will most likely lose. Nonetheless, he has refused to alter course.
To resolve this deadlock, Brussels can acknowledge Jakarta’s progress in bettering the sustainability of its palm oil manufacturing and use its present ban as leverage to barter restricted nickel ore exports. The EU ought to open its single market to elevated imports of licensed sustainable palm oil. In return, it ought to push Jakarta to export restricted portions of nickel ore to its 27 member states. With Indonesia more likely to lose its case on the WTO, a mixture of worldwide stress and palm oil concessions from Brussels may persuade Jakarta to regulate its export ban.
To succeed in an EU-Indonesia FTA, Brussels ought to prioritize industrial wants and geostrategic pursuits in competing with China within the Indo-Pacific. The bloc ought to goal to barter an settlement like these it signed with Singapore and Vietnam, which extra willingly loosened developmental and environmental requirements to advance sensible industrial pursuits. Indonesia needs to be no exception.