Newsmaker Interview: Christine Brown

By Paul Goddard and A. Lin Neumann

USTR official discusses beef, the WTO and efforts to increase bilateral trade
Saturday, July 20, 2013

Christine Brown is Director for Southeast Asia and Pacific Affairs at the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), and her work includes trade and investment issues related to Indonesia. 

Prior to joining the USTR, she was with the US Department of Commerce, where she worked on a variety of WTO issues, including customs and trade facilitation, import licensing, standards and sanitary measures.

After her recent visit to Jakarta, Ms. Brown shared her views on U.S.-Indonesia trade relations, as well as regional liberalization efforts.

AmCham: The US has a case with Indonesia in the WTO over horticultural products. Where does that stand? Are the bilateral issues being worked out?

Christine Brown: The United States challenged Indonesia in the WTO over its import restrictions on horticulture, including fruits, vegetables, flowers, dried fruits and vegetables, and juices, following our inability to resolve the issue bilaterally.  The WTO established a panel in April to consider the case and the process is moving forward in Geneva, although we remain open to finding a mutually-acceptable solution to the dispute.

US beef here is both hard to find and very expensive. Is any progress being made on raising the quotas on US beef?

We are concerned about the complex web of restrictions on access of US beef into Indonesia that, as you note, also have hurt Indonesian consumers by making beef hard to find and very expensive.  We have been working to address these restrictions, including the quotas, which are an element of the WTO horticulture case we are pursuing against Indonesia. At the same time, we are working bilaterally to improve access to Indonesia for US beef and beef products. Indonesia recently issued a number of new regulations revising the quota system framework and also Indonesian safety requirements to align them with international standards. We are currently reviewing these new measures and hope that they lead to the opening of the Indonesian market for U.S. beef.

The ASEAN Economic Community is supposed to be implemented by the end of 2015. Will that have any trade ramifications for the US?

The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community is a significant development and one that the United States has strongly supported. ASEAN integration will generate significant benefits for ASEAN members, while also making it easier for US companies to trade across the region seamlessly, facilitating US exports to this region of 600 million people. 

One initiative through which we are seeking to support ASEAN integration and enhance ASEAN-U.S. ties is through the Expanded Economic Engagement, or E3, which President Obama and the ten ASEAN Leaders launched last October. In June, we welcomed ASEAN Economic Ministers to the United States for detailed discussions under the ASEAN-US Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement on ways to accelerate our E3 work, including on information and communications technology, investment, trade facilitation and regulatory issues.

Indonesia is not likely to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Is this a disappointment for the TPP?  Is there any prospect of Indonesia joining in the future or is the TPP too stringent in its thresholds?

TPP is open to any APEC economy that is prepared to meet the high standards and objectives set by the current TPP members, and it has been designed to expand over time to include countries across the Asia Pacific. We have regularly updated Indonesia on the status of the TPP negotiations so it has the information necessary to consider membership, should it decide to pursue it. TPP countries are seeking a high-standard, comprehensive agreement because economic studies show that the deeper and wider the commitments, the greater the benefits. TPP countries are a developmentally diverse group, but we are discussing flexibilities that will help the developing country members meet the TPP’s standards.

The US is not a major trading partner with Indonesia. What is being done to increase bi-lateral trade?

In fact, the United States is Indonesia’s fifth largest trading partner, with two-way goods trade of $26 billion in 2012. While there is significant trade between the two countries, clearly there is opportunity for growth. We are working through our Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, APEC and other fora to eliminate trade barriers, promote trade and investment liberalization and deepen the US-Indonesian economic relationship.

The rise of protectionism and non-tariff barriers in Indonesia has been worrisome for a number of businesses and countries. Where do you see this trend going?

The United States has serious concerns about the array of new trade and investment restrictions Indonesia has introduced in recent years, as do many of Indonesia’s other trading partners. Indonesia has stated that its policies are intended to promote domestic production, create jobs and move the Indonesian economy up the value chain. While we recognize these objectives, we have urged Indonesia to find other ways to achieve them that do not impede trade and investment.

The WTO meets here in December. Is there any realistic hope for progress on the Doha Round? What would the US like to see happen to get the Doha Round restarted?

Our trade officials have echoed those from other WTO members that a failure to produce a small package of results at the Bali Ministerial would put into question the ability of the WTO to comprehensively conclude the Doha Round. We believe it is most important to focus on getting a Bali package and then continue to consider new approaches to tackle other aspects of the Doha negotiating agenda and other new areas of negotiation.

What are the best areas for trade between the US and Indonesia? Are there any growing sectors that might surprise our members?

We continue to see tremendous opportunity in the Indonesian market, particularly for consumer products and infrastructure exports, as well as for services trade.

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