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.

Getty Images.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.