ASEAN+5 RCEP BENEFITS FOR INDONESIA

President Joko Widodo and Minister of Trade Agus Suparmanto at the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement of the ASEAN Summit from the Bogor Palace, SETNEG/Biro Pers Setpres

Writer: Hendra Manurung (Hendra Manurung is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in international relations at Padjadjaran University, Bandung)

On 15 November 2020, the Regional Comprehensive of Economic Cooperation known as RCEP signed by Indonesia President Joko Widodo. It will cover ASEAN member-countries with its five partner countries, such as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. But it is rejected by India. It is expected that ASEAN RCEP will benefit Indonesia’s various export products.

In fact, these various benefits ranging from the increased gross domestic product (GDP), boosting exports, and attracting foreign investments coming to Indonesia and more.

The negotiations, which initially started with 16 countries, ended up being signed by 15 countries, involving 10 ASEAN countries and 5 partner countries, namely China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. As is known, India withdrew from negotiations in 2019.

RCEP is still open to India, if India is interested in re-joining, as RCEP will remain open to India when it is ready to rejoin as the original negotiating party.

This also strengthens the declaration put forward by the RCEP trade ministers when holding the RCEP Summit Preparation previously on 11 November 2020.

RCEP is still considered as a mega-regional free trade agreement covering Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania.

All countries of RCEP understand the domestic economic challenges India is facing when it withdraws from the RCEP negotiation process last year.

Further, based on Indonesian Fiscal Policy Agency study in 2019, stated that Indonesia could increase GDP by 0.05% during the 2021-2032 period if it participated in RCEP.

However, if Indonesia does not participate in RCEP, then the national GDP might experience a decline of 0.07% during the same period, from 2021 to 2032.

RCEP will also provide welfare gain for Indonesia around US$ 1.52 billion.

Table 1 Indonesia Balance of Trade, Oct. 2019-Oct 2020 (in millions US$)

Period Result Progress
October 2019 US$ 122,4 surplus
November 2019 US$ – 1.396 deficit
December 2019 US$ -78 deficit
January 2020 US$ -636,7 deficit
February 2020 US$ 2.512,8 surplus
March 2020 US$ 715,7 surplus
April 2020 US$ -372,1 deficit
May 2020 US$ 2.015,7 surplus
June 2020 US$ 1.249 surplus
July 2020 US$ 3.238,4 surplus
August 2020 US$ 2.353,4 surplus
September 2020 US$ 2.390,4 surplus
October 2020 (temporarily) US$ 3.606,8 surplus

Source: Badan Pusat Statistik

Table 2 Indonesia’s export and import of non-oil and gas (in millions US$)

Countries Export Import
China US$ 2.860,3 US$ 2.798,1
The United States US$ 1.638,1 US$ 609
Japan US$ 1.064,3 US$ 731,3
India US$ 874,4
EU-27 16 billion Euro 10.2 billion Euro
Singapore US$ 706,5

Source: Badan Pusat Statistik

When compared to free trade agreements initiated by other countries, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to the EU-27, the incorporation of 15 countries in RCEP is quite significant.

However, RCEP remains a global dynamic in world trade. RCEP without India represents cumulatively 29% of world GDP, 27.1% of world trade, 29.3% of world FDI and 29.6% of the world’s population.

The existence of RCEP should be able to be the best opportunity and opportunity for Indonesian export products to boost exports, attract investment, and increasing the competitiveness of national economic products in the region.

Suppose, this welfare gain can be defined as the surplus that consumers and producers get from a transaction. If from the consumer perspective, welfare gin is obtained when the price that consumers can pay is greater than the factual price in the market, while from the perspective of producers, welfare is obtained if the price they are able to offer to the market is lower than the factual price in the market.

Indonesia has the potential to avoid the trade balance deficit by US$ 491.46 million. Even so, this potential deficit might be balanced by maximizing the surplus and global supply chain needs through the backward linkage and forward linkage aspects.

Moreover, in order to attract foreign investment to Indonesia, Indonesia needs to do lots of homework regarding to national reforming policies and reforming the domestic bureaucracy.

The business and investment climate in Indonesia has the same attractiveness and can even be higher than in other countries.

Apart from the foreign investment side, to get benefits from the trade gain, Indonesia should be aware and more careful in utilizing RCEP as a benchmark for efforts to develop and to improve the national domestic supply chain and increase national productivity.

It is necessary to explore which potential sectors which still need to be facilitated in terms of increasing productivity and trade competitiveness in penetrating international markets in these areas.

There must be serious efforts by the Indonesian government together with all stakeholders so that the domestic business climate in this sector can be improved more efficient and more attractive so that investment from RCEP can be directed to that sector. In fact, Indonesia must also identify carefully which export products are more competitive for trading in the region.

Indonesia should be able to prepare the advantages of export products with high-quality standards and affordable competitive prices that can compete with other countries mostly in accessing the international market continuously.

Those countries that are most ready to implement RCEP, such as China, for example, are countries that already have and implement more trade agreements previously than Indonesia. This is because these countries may have carried out internal reforms first.

Indonesia should anticipate intense competition between countries over the implementation of a regional partnership agreement so that Indonesia is not merely a potential market for various products export partner countries.

In Southeast Asia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia perhaps are still better prepared than Indonesia. This is because the country has more complex trade agreements and has been implemented effectively to date.

Indonesia is still lagging behind because of the ease of doing business reform. Even though there is now a Job Creation Law, it must be ensured that its implementation is beneficial for all domestic stakeholders before RCEP can be effective after it has been ratified by all countries.

Apart from the need to work hard to realize increased exports, attract investment, and increase economic competitiveness in the region, RCEP is also expected to be able to create higher certainty of business activities in the region to normalize trade and investment flows, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the next 50 years, Indonesia needs to prepare a bumper to protect the sustainability of the domestic industry from the negative impact of free trade which is likely to be unfair.

The translation of the RCEP agreement text is targeted for completion within two months before ratification. Previously, it was necessary to carry out a comprehensive impact analysis by the government and the DPR.

A comprehensive agreement such as the RCEP should have consequences for the content of rules that must be adopted in the regulatory framework of the national economy. Obviously, this will have an impact on the narrowing of the government policy space and state sovereignty to protect the interests of the Indonesian people.

All domestic stakeholders must be involved in the decision-making process for the ratification of the RCEP agreement, including small and medium scale entrepreneurs.

Without any clear preparation and blueprint, the resilience of the domestic industry will in fact be battered, while competing with various cheaper imported products.

The bumper is in the form of a non-tariff policy where this effort is common in other countries in the midst of free competition. However, Indonesia needs to be careful and limited in implementing it so as not to lead to trade disputes with other countries.

Another bumper is related to the precautionary principle and the need for stages in ratifying the RCEP. Not all points of the agreement need to be ratified if they are deemed to be detrimental to the domestic industry. Thus, the ratification process must involve many related parties and be discussed openly.

Trade expansion between countries can only be done if a country has its export products that are ready to be marketed. Currently, around 72% of exports in the global market are manufactured products, while Indonesian exports still rely on commodities such as palm oil and coal.

If Indonesia has not been able to shift to the manufacturing sector, it is certain that Indonesia will only be flooded with imported products or simply become a producer of raw material sources and not shift from traditional markets.

The challenges are even more difficult amid the global pandemic which has hit various domestic industrial sectors, especially manufacturing.

To conclude, the advantage obtained through joining RCEP is how Indonesian export products are able to drive themselves to be more productive and competitive. The government and all business actors need to be more aggressive and quick to make structural adjustments in optimally utilizing RCEP opportunities.

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