I Hear You Knocking

AmCham Indonesia’s annual doorknock visit to Washington unfolded in October

By A Lin Neumann
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Given the lengthy government transition underway in Washington, DC this year after the election of President Donald Trump, AmCham Indonesia’s annual doorknock visit to the capitol was postponed until the week of October 9 to allow time for the dust to settle.

And while there are still uncertainties remaining in the government, our delegation – President Brian Arnold, 1st Vice President Doug Ramage, 2nd Vice President Adam Schwarz and Managing Director A Lin Neumann – found plenty of officials eager to meet with us for candid discussions about business conditions in Indonesia and trade relations with the United States.

In addition, we chose an opportune time for the visit because there was considerable focus on Indonesia the week we were there. Officials from the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN) were in town for their own doorknock visit led by Chairman Rosan Roeslani.

In addition, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati was attending the annual IMF/World Back meetings during the week along with Bank Indonesia Governor Agus Martowardojo. Coordinating Maritime Minister Luhut Pandjaitan rounded out the official presence for the meetings as he is organizing the Indonesia side of next year’s October 2018 IMF/WB annual meeting, which will be held in Bali.

Heartfelt comments

One highlight was a heartfelt speech given on October 11th by Sri Mulyani at the Women’s CEO Forum organized by the American-Indonesian Chamber of Commerce. Far from her usual remarks as the country’s tough-minded finance minister, she chose the occasion to reflect on the balance she tries to maintain between being a wife and mother and a top-tier government official. The presentation was sensitive, wise and by turns poignant and funny; it ended with a rousing ovation from the audience of executives, students and others.

That evening, we were also present for a gala dinner hosted by USINDO and USABC in honor of the visiting Indonesian officials. On the Friday, we were guests at a breakfast hosted by Indonesian Ambassador Budi Bowoleksono for US companies, KADIN and AmCham.

Our real work, however consisted of a series of meetings with working level officials of the US government. We had two solid meetings with the office of the US Trade Representative, meeting first with the professional staff and later with two recent political appointees. In both instances we carried a message from our companies to urge the new administration to maintain dialogue with Indonesia but also to seek greater market access for American exports to the country.

Brass tacks

We were also frank in saying that we felt that removing the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal represented a net loss for US influence in the region. The subject of Indonesia’s trade deficit with the US did come up in discussions but there were no specific policy steps revealed for how the US intends to deal with it. We also did not hear of any specific steps for bi-lateral agreements with Indonesia other than the ongoing TIFA process.

In meetings with the State Department’s Indonesia desk and Patrick Murphy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, we sought assurances on the continued importance of the relationship with Indonesia.

We were also pleased to have separate lunches with two old friends, Brian McFeeters, the recent DCM at the embassy in Jakarta who is now the Acting Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs; and Robert Blake, the former US Ambassador, who is now in private practice in Washington, DC with McLarty Associates.

During meetings with the White House, Commerce, Treasury and State, we also hammered home one of our continuing requests – the US government should pay greater attention to the need for high-level visits to Jakarta by senior American officials.

There was also considerable time devoted to discussions with several agencies plus Congressional staffers about how President Trump’s policy on Southeast Asia would be expressed during his visit to this week’s APEC summit in Vietnam.

Another highlight of the week was a meeting with the new leadership team of the Ex-Im Bank, all of whom assured us that the bank had the full support of the president and that we can look forward to a more aggressive and integrated approach to helping US businesses in the future after a long period of turmoil.

Finally, we did not ignore the legislative branch, venturing up to Capitol Hill for discussions with the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John McCain’s office and the office of Rep. Ann Wagner, who co-chairs the Congressional ASEAN Caucus.

We want to thank our friends at the US Chamber of Commerce who helped secure our executive branch meetings, and Mike Dubois of Kit Bond Strategies who remains a wizard within the halls of Congress, opening all the right doors and in the process also helping with our Ex-Im meeting.

These doorknock weeks tend to be a blur of meetings and handshakes and talk, but the end result was reassuring. We met numerous officials, some of them new faces and some familiar to us, but all understood the importance of Indonesia to US business and also our firm desire to see real progress on issues that disadvantage our companies.

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