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Jokowi turns to creative sectors to spur Indonesia's growth

Spotlight shifts to films, fashion, handicrafts as country aims to cut reliance on natural resources

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Models presenting creations by designer Gee Batik at a fashion show in Surabaya. Indonesia's agency for creative economy is pushing for exports of the country's designer goods by aggressive marketing.

Jakarta

INDONESIA wants to lower its reliance on natural resources and President Joko Widodo is turning the spotlight on films, fashion and handicrafts.

Growth in these creative industries is set to exceed the pace of the nation's gross domestic product of about 5 per cent, said Triawan Munaf, head of Indonesian Agency for Creative Economy.

These sectors accounted for about 7.4 per cent of Indonesia's GDP, or about 1,000 trillion rupiah (S$95 billion) in 2017, and Mr Widodo is looking to raise it to 9 per cent by 2020.

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Indonesia's economic fortunes have for long been tied to its resources industry and Mr Widodo - better known as Jokowi - in 2015 set up the agency for creative economy to promote foreign investment in sunrise sectors like entertainment, fashion textiles and packaged food.

The government's move to allow foreign investments in films, movie distribution and exhibition has lured foreign investors including 21st Century Fox and South Korea's Lotte Cinema.

"The focus on creative economy is really paying off," Mr Munaf said in an interview at his office in central Jakarta earlier this week.

"The removal of the film industry from the negative list for foreign investors has led to a surge in the number of screens and viewership for Indonesian and Hollywood movies alike."

Within three years of opening film production, exhibition and distribution to foreign investors, the number of movie screens in Indonesia jumped 50 per cent to 1,500 while ticket sales soared to 42.7 million last year from 16 million in 2015, said Mr Munaf, who was a former advertising professional appointed by Mr Widodo.

Lotte Cinema has acquired land to build theatres in more than 60 locations, while CJ CGV, through its Indonesian unit PT Graha Layar Prima, is already present in 13 Indonesian cities.

Cinema 21 is Indonesia's largest operator of movie theatres with nearly 1,000 screens and has exclusive distribution rights to Motion Pictures Association of America studio films in the archipelago.

South-east Asia's largest economy has climbed 45 places in the World Bank's ease of doing business ranking since Mr Widodo took office in 2014.

He wants the country to improve its position to 40 in the next two years from 72 now.

The World Bank has called for easier terms for foreign manufacturers and fewer restrictions on ownership in some sectors to lure more foreign direct investment.

The agency is also pushing for exports of Indonesian designer goods such as batik clothes and handicrafts by aggressively marketing at global exhibitions, Mr Munaf said.

The government is working with e-commerce platforms like Bukalapak.com and other startups to find buyers for Indonesian designers and artisans, he said.

"Fresh graduates are increasingly choosing informal work like developing games and applications and culinary business," said Josua Pardede, an economist at PT Bank Permata in Jakarta.

"If they get support from the government to promote their products in the global market, it will contribute to foreign investment and foreign reserves."

Mr Widodo has taken steps to wean the country off commodities and push investment in value-added manufacturing and services to generate more jobs and to finance hundreds of billions of dollars needed for infrastructure.

Indonesia's economy has expanded at an average of about 5 per cent, below the 7 per cent targeted by the president. BLOOMBERG