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 Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.