November 6, 2019 / 10:26 AM / 16 days ago

UPDATE 2-U.S. says talks on Indonesia trade preference to conclude soon

(Adds more comments from Indonesian minister in paragraphs 6-9)

By Bernadette Christina and Tabita Diela

JAKARTA, Nov 6 (Reuters) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Wednesday Washington's review of a trade preference facility for Indonesia would conclude soon, and predicted "far more investment" by U.S. companies in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has been reviewing Indonesia's eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) facility for more than a year due to concerns about market access for U.S. goods, services and investment.

Speaking after meetings with Indonesian ministers and ahead of a meeting with President Joko Widodo, Ross said both sides had agreed to step up efforts to conclude the review.

"We're comfortable and confident that very quickly (the outstanding issues) could be resolved," Ross told reporters in the Indonesian capital.

"I think we'll see far more investment from American companies and far more bilateral trade than exist right now."

The GSP programme gives privileged trade status to developing economies.

By retaining GSP and opening up more market access both ways, Indonesia and the United States aim to more than double their trade in the next five years to $60 billion, Indonesian Chief Economic Affairs Minister Airlangga Hartarto said.

Total two-way trade was worth $28.6 billion last year, according to Indonesian trade ministry data.

"We want to open access for our furniture and textiles and we have programmes to import more cotton and wheat from the U.S.," Hartarto said.

Some 80% of the negotiations for the GSP facility, which reduces duties on $2 billion of Indonesian exports, have been completed, he said, adding that talks should be wrapped up before Christmas.

U.S. companies including automotive firm Tesla and conglomerate Honeywell were seeking business opportunities, and Jakarta had promised improvements in the investment climate, Hartarto said.

The United States ended GSP treatment for India in June, while facilities for Thailand was suspended last month.

Ross was in Jakarta as part of a regional tour, during which the United States has been criticised for not sending higher-level officials to the back-to-back East Asian Summit and U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Thailand.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was "fully committed" to Asia, Ross told a business forum in Bangkok on Monday.

He repeated that to reporters in Jakarta. "Any thought that we're losing interest in this region is totally wrong," he said, calling Southeast Asia "very, very important". (Reporting by Bernadette Christina and Tabita Diela; Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardon)

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