EU’s FTA Efforts in the Asia-Pacific Are a Reflection of the Its ‘Look East Policy’
EUBULLETIN: What do you think are the prospects for EU-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)? Can it be developed into something more substantial like a deep and comprehensive FTA?
D.F. Anwar: We have to look very carefully at it, I think, because when you look at the EU, we are talking about 28 countries at the moment. And the issue with the EU is that it includes agriculture, for example, which is a very sensitive issue in Brussels. Indonesia will have to be much more careful in dealing with the EU because we know that dealing with the EU is not easy. As you know the EU is very complex, with its bureaucracy that is even more complex than the bureaucracy here in Indonesia which is already quite complex. So I think that we really need to go to the details. There are so many comprehensive partnerships that are being signed. And just signing a comprehensive partnership without looking what the priorities, and not just the priorities, but also the modalities of achieving objectives are would prove to be problematic for Indonesia.
EUBULLETIN: What are, in your view, some of the important obstacles in the CEPA negotiations?
D.F. Anwar: Indonesian economy is complimentary perhaps with most EU countries – many of the EU countries are very developed and Indonesia will see how we can benefit from them. But there are also EU countries that are less rich and Indonesia will see them more as competitors. And so when the EU wants to give certain privilege to Indonesia, there may be some members of the EU which might say ‘you know why give it to the foreign country, why not give it to us because our economies are also suffering?’ So, I think that we also need to look into that. But I think that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership as a whole should be welcome because this is a reflection of the EU’s ‘Look East Policy’ – that the EU is now open to the Asia-Pacific region. Every major country in the world wants to conclude a ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ with Indonesia, with ASEAN, so this is the indication that the EU is giving more attention and I think that Indonesia welcomes that. But when it comes to the actual content, Indonesia must be much more careful because when we, ASEAN, signed the FTA with China without thorough analysis of internal obstacles, Indonesia did not really do a thorough study about how it would impact domestic manufacturers, agriculture and so on and so there was a major backlash. So, we have to be very, very careful so that there are no negative side effects for Indonesia.
EUBULLETIN: The EU played an important role in finding a peaceful, comprehensive and sustainable solution to the conflict in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Following its successful mission both as a mediator and peace-builder, do you think that the EU has the potential and capacity to become more of a political and security actor in this region?
D.F. Anwar: Well, it is not going to be so easy for the EU to become a real actor in security and political matters in the Asia-Pacific because the EU is lacking real hard-power in this region. The EU is a civilian power, the EU has a lot to offer to Indonesia and to ASEAN in terms of solving conflicts through peaceful means, in developing good governance, democratic peace, conflict resolution – those are the strengths of the EU and I think ASEAN can look to the EU in terms of the benchmarking of regional integration and ASEAN member countries can also look at the experience of the EU in developing their governance. But when it comes to becoming a real actor in managing conflicts, it would be complicated because if we talk about the EU, we think of 28 countries with ships, with guns and aircraft and I am not sure that they would actually be welcome to push their weight in very crowded waters in the South China Sea, for example. So, we have to be very careful that the EU should not be too ambitious in areas where it really does not have an absolute leverage. The EU has lots of soft power and it should make the most of it in our region.
EUBULLETIN: We can always hear – and this was the case especially during the Asian economic crisis in 1997-1998 – people asking ‘what lessons can Asian countries learn from the West’. But now, with the financial and economic crisis still lingering in Europe, what lessons can the Europeans learn from ASEAN?
D.F. Anwar: Well, we have already been through a crisis and we have already learnt a lot from our own crisis. And we saw that if the crisis drags on and on, it also reflects the decision-making process and that it is really important for the national leaders to find a consensus to take tough measures. I think this is very important. And in this case, it is not us who should learn from Europe but it is Europe that should learn from us.
Prof. Dr. Dewi Fortuna Anwar is currently a Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs to the Vice President, Secretariat of the Vice President, Jakarta, Indonesia. She is a leading academic, researcher and political analyst. During the administration of President Habibie of Indonesia, she served as Assistant to the Vice-President for Global Affairs and Assistant Minister/State Secretary for Foreign Affairs. She was Research Professor and Deputy Chairman for Social Sciences and Humanities at The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).