Indonesia emphasises SME trade facilitation for "inclusive and equitable growth" within ASEAN

The Indonesian Trade Ministry’s data shows that 73.4% of measures required to set up the ASEAN Community in 2015 have been fulfilled. However a potpourri of issues, such as the health and logistic sectors and services, remain to be resolved.

Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, who chaired the annual ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting this year in Manado, North Sulawesi, told an interview that Indonesia's priority in its current role as Chair of ASEAN is to focus on "inclusive and equitable growth" to lessen the development gap between nations.

"We have prioritised small and medium enterprises, as 96% of business units in ASEAN are operated by small- and medium-scale enterprises [SMEs]. SMEs contribute between 30-60% of work force absorption in ASEAN. ASEAN also has the ASEAN Investment Area [AIA] to minimise the gaps between member states, especially Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. It focuses on capacity building and facilitation.

"This area could be widened, especially if there is commitment from dialogue partners to assist ASEAN. Infrastructure is one possibility to shorten the economic gap. This is also related to connectivity. The ASEAN Master Plan of Connectivity and the ASEAN infrastructure plan are facets of issues discussed at the financial ministers level to support infrastructure development in ASEAN.

"Infrastructure projects are not only aimed at connectivity, but also efficiency, competitiveness and equity. For example, connecting North Sulawesi and the Philippines will benefit both areas. For now, the Singapore-Kunming project will connect Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Don’t forget, we also have to pay attention to sea connectivity," she said.

Among the concrete lans to assist SMEs are the creation of a database so buyers can see products offered by SMEs, to strengthen networks among SMEs and to facilitate and assist SMEs to meet standards set by importing countries.