When Mr Cameron went to Jakarta

What the outcome of Cameron's Indonesian tour means for relationships between London and Jakarta

Earlier this month, many of us were among the Indonesian business community which welcomed British Prime Minister David Cameron to Jakarta, where he expressed his clear desire for closer trading links between our countries.

This week, Indonesia’s trade minister, Gita Wirjawan, will arrive in Europe to press the case for more trade with all member states of the European Union. As part of Indonesia’s forestry business sector, with over $9bn in exports annually, we wholeheartedly support the initiatives from both Cameron and Wirjawan.

For European companies, Indonesia represents a substantial and growing opportunity at a time of deep economic crisis. Indonesia is the largest economy in South East Asia, with a GDP in excess of $1trn. Annual GDP growth reached 6.5 per cent at the end of 2011. We have a thriving consumer economy which offers great prospects for everyone from smart phone makers to automotive brands and plane manufacturers. During Cameron’s trip to Jakarta, Garuda Indonesia, Indonesia’s national airline, announced an order of 11 new planes from Airbus, bringing much needed work for the UK aviation industry.

For Indonesia, Europe continues to be a significant market for our exporters. In Indonesia’s forestry sector, Europe accounts for 15 per cent of Indonesia’s timber product exports, a figure we would like to grow in the years ahead.

In order to achieve that, we understand European businesses and consumers need cast-iron assurances that their wood products do not come at the expense of the environment. Indonesia contains many of the world’s most precious natural resources and biodiversity. Indonesia’s rainforests are home to some of most endangered species on the planet, such as the Sumatran Tiger, and are critical in the fight against climate change.

Indonesia, including the forestry sector, has recognised that deforestation is no longer an acceptable option for our country, our partners, and the environment. That’s why Indonesia’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, made a strong commitment last year to protecting Indonesia’s rainforests and reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent over the rest of this decade.

In the forestry sector, we have seen the very positive and practical results of these commitments, with the introduction of a new certification system for Indonesia’s timber sector, called "SVLK".

SVLK, which comes into force next year, will provide the assurance to European and other customers that Indonesia’s wood products are produced in a legal and sustainable manner. Two months ago, all the major trade associations representing the forestry sector in Indonesia, gathered in Jakarta to work out the practical steps required to achieve world-class timber production and trade standards through SVLK. We are now very firmly on that path, which will ultimately cover every part of the wood product sector in Indonesia. It is a huge undertaking – but a vital one.

The timing of SVLK is very important for our European stakeholders. When the EU Timber Regulation comes into force in March 2013 it will require all European importers of timber to have done a high level of due diligence on the wood products they buy. By providing a simple and clear standard, SVLK licensing will make this much easier and provide a very high level of reassurance for those sourcing timber products in Indonesia.

We urge the European Commission, European Member States and the Indonesian government to promote awareness of the SVLK in Europe and what it will mean for those who wish to trade in wood products with Indonesia. With these world-class standards in place, Indonesia’s forestry sector will be able to participate in the growing trade opportunities between our country and the EU – without sacrificing precious environmental values.

Finally, we would also like to call for constructive engagement with European NGOs who have taken such a strong interest in the protection of Indonesia’s natural resources over the years. The new SVLK system is something they should support and welcome. Indonesia’s forestry sector wants to work with them to help make it a success.

We hope that the initiatives by Cameron and Wirjawan mark the beginning of a new era of trade between Indonesia and EU nations. There are huge gains to be made by both sides if our economic ties can become stronger.

Illegally logged trees are floated downstream in Indonesia. Photograph: Getty Images

Purwadi Soeprihanto is the executive director of the Association of Indonesian Forest Concessionaires.

Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn faces a dilemma as Brexit solidifies: which half of his voters should he disappoint?

He comes from a tradition on the left that sees the EU as a capitalist club.

Imagine a man who voted to leave the European Economic Community in 1975. A man who spoke out against the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, saying that it “takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers”. A man who voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008.

You don’t have to imagine very hard, because that man is Jeremy Corbyn. When campaigning for the Labour leadership in 2015, he told a GMB hustings, “I would ­advocate a No vote if we are going to get an imposition of free-market policies across Europe.”

When Labour’s Brexiteers gathered to launch their campaign in 2016, several seemed hurt that Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were not there with them. “It is surprising, when we voted against the advice of the chief whip on a number of European issues over the last decades, that Jeremy and John, who have always been in that lobby with us, that they would want to lead a campaign that isn’t even asking for a renegotiated position,” said the MP Graham Stringer.

I mention this because since the election campaign started in April, I keep having an odd experience – people insisting that Corbyn is not a Eurosceptic, and that he will use Labour’s new-found strength to argue for a softer Brexit. Others claim that Labour’s current position on freedom of movement (ending it) is the obvious, common-sense – even progressive – choice.

This matters. Look, if the evidence above doesn’t convince you that the Labour leader is intensely relaxed about exiting the European Union, I don’t know what else would. Yet it’s clear that some Labour activists strongly identify personally with Corbyn: they find it hard to believe that he holds different opinions from them.

The second factor is the remaking of Brexit as a culture war, where to say that someone is a Eurosceptic is seen as a kind of slur. Perhaps without realising it, some on the left do associate Euroscepticism with Little Englanderism or even flat-out racism, and see it as a moral failing rather than a political position.

But I’m not impugning Jeremy Corbyn’s character or morals by saying that he is an instinctive Brexiteer. He comes from a tradition on the left that sees the EU as a capitalist club. You can disagree with that premise but it’s a respectable line of reasoning.

Also, the Euroscepticism of Corbyn and his allies will undoubtedly give them an advantage in the months ahead; they are not consumed by fatalism, and the members of McDonnell’s shadow Treasury team feel that the removal of European state aid restrictions can help revive ailing bits of the British economy. They have a vision of what an ideal “Labour Brexit” would be – and it’s not just sobbing and begging Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to take us back.

We do, however, need a reality check. Now that the necessary humble pie has been eaten, Labour’s unexpected revival at the ballot box means we can begin to treat Corbyn as a normal politician – with the emphasis on the second word. He’s not the Messiah, but he’s not a joke either. He is a charismatic campaigner who is willing to compromise on second-tier issues to achieve his main objectives.

From the general election, we can see just how good a campaigner Corbyn is: he can fire up a crowd, give disciplined answers to interviewers and chat amiably on a sofa. That throws into sharp relief just how limp his performances were last year.

He might have little else in common with Theresa May, but they both looked at the EU referendum and thought: yeah, I’m going to sit this one out. He called on activists to accept the EU “warts and all”; and said he was “seven, or seven and a half” out of ten in favour of staying in it.

For both leaders, this was a pragmatic decision. May did not want to be overtly disloyal to David Cameron, but neither did she wish to risk her career if the result went the other way.

Anyone in Labour would have been equally sane to look north of the border and back to 2014, and remember just how much credibility the party immolated by sharing stages with the Conservatives and allowing itself to be seen as the establishment. By limiting his involvement in the Remain campaign and whipping his MPs to trigger Article 50, Corbyn ended up with a fudge that gave Labour some cover in heavily pro-Brexit regions of the country.

That’s the politics, but what about the principle? I can’t shake the feeling that if Corbyn campaigned as hard for Remain in 2016 as he did for Labour in 2017, we would still be members of the European Union. And that matters to me, as much as left-wing policies or a change in the rhetoric around migrants and welfare claimants, because I think leaving the EU is going to make us poorer and meaner.

That’s why I worry that many of my friends, and the activists I talk to, are about to be disappointed, after waiting and waiting for Labour to start making the case for a softer Brexit and for the single market being more important than border controls. As Michael Chessum, a long-standing Momentum organiser, wrote on the New Statesman website, “Recognising the fact that immigration enriches society is all very well, but that narrative is inevitably undermined if you then choose to abolish the best policy for allowing immigration to happen.”

Labour’s success on 8 June was driven by its ambiguous stance on Brexit. To Leavers, it could wink at ending freedom of movement when they worried about immigration; to Remainers, it offered a critique of the immigrant-bashing rhetoric of recent times. But can that coalition hold as the true shape of Brexit solidifies? Over the next few months, Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest decision will be this: which half of my voters should I disappoint?

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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