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Jokowi to S'pore businesses: The early bird catches the worm

He emphasises early-mover advantage, citing big returns on investments enjoyed by those who dared to enter the country in 1997/98

At a joint press conference, President Joko and PM Lee vowed to continue to strengthen the close ties between Indonesia and Singapore in the areas of the economy, defence and people-to-people relations. They also witnessed the inking of three agreements by officials at the Istana.


NOW would be the best time for Singapore businesses to invest in Indonesia if they want to profit big, as Southeast Asia's largest nation has seen a major transfer of power and confronts a commodity slump and global headwinds, says Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

"We only have to look to history to prove that those who come early will be the ones who will reap great profit," said Mr Joko, driving home the point of opportunity in crisis at a Singapore-Indonesia Business Dialogue on Tuesday held in conjunction with the statesman's first official state visit here.

He was referring to the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis, when many "brave" and "daring" investors from Singapore, Malaysia and the United States saw the opportunity to invest in crisis-hit Indonesia - investors who, over a decade later, enjoyed huge returns on their investments.

Acknowledging that there may be some creases in Indonesia's regulatory environment that still need to be ironed out such as licensing and permits to woo investments, Mr Joko said "don't wait until it's all done. Invest early" - which drew applause from the participants at the event.

No doubt about it, said Mr Joko: the Indonesian economy will double in size. "It may take only 10 years or 15 years but I'm absolutely sure it will happen."

The dialogue session was jointly organised by International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and Indonesia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN), the Investment Coordinating Board and the Indonesian Embassy, and attended by over 150 Singapore business leaders.

In his welcome speech, S Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said bilateral trade between the two countries has grown in the past decade with total trade standing at S$72.4 billion in 2014.

Indonesia was Singapore's fourth largest trading partner in 2014 (after Malaysia, China and the US) and second largest trading partner in Asean, while Singapore - lured by Indonesia's abundant and cost-competitive labour and land plus sizeable consumer market - has been one of the country's top five investors since 2001.

In fact, Mr Iswaran pointed out that last year, Singapore was Indonesia's top foreign investor with total investments of US$5.8 billion, a 25 per cent increase from 2013.

Singapore firms that have made major investments in Indonesia of late include Ascendas, CapitaLand, Keppel Land and Sembcorp while SMEs like Tat Wai, Cyclect, Flagship Ecosystems and Love, Bonito have partnered with local Indonesian firms to gain access to the market.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Joko (who arrived in the morning) called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam, after which he met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

At a joint press conference, Mr Lee and Mr Joko vowed to continue to strengthen their close ties in the areas of the economy, defence and people-to-people relations.

Both leaders also agreed to work together to sweeten Indonesia's investment proposition to Singapore companies, more specifically in areas such as the Batam, Bintan and Karimun (BBK) special economic zone, and to promote their countries as a joint tourism destination.

Security cooperation and exchanging intelligence was also discussed to tackle the threat of extremism and the ISIS militant group.

To deepen the ties, the countries inked three agreements at the Istana which were witnessed by Mr Lee and Mr Joko, for further cooperation in e-government and to develop youth and sports. The third pact for a Strategic Cooperation Agreement was signed between the SBF and KADIN Indonesia, the first such agreement between two apex chambers in Asean.

This agreement - which caps an 11-year partnership since the conclusion of the memorandum of understanding between the two chambers in 2004 - is intended to foster closer ties between SMEs in Singapore and Indonesia and deepen collaboration in specific business sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing and logistics.

Mr Joko is accompanied by First Lady Iriana Joko Widodo and a high-level ministerial delegation. On Wednesday, Mr Joko and his wife will attend an orchid-naming ceremony held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens where an orchid, the Dendrobium Iriana Jokowi, will be named after them.

This may be Mr Joko's first official visit to Singapore since he took office last October, but not his first meeting here with the prime minister.

Mr Lee said he hosted Mr Joko and his wife to a nasi lemak breakfast during a private visit here. Mr Joko was also here to attend the State Funeral Service of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in March.

"My family and I like Singapore. We respect Singapore. We admire Singapore," said Mr Joko at the dialogue session with the business fraternity.