Australia and East Timor sign historic maritime boundary deal, despite tensions over gas field – The Daily Telegraph

Xanana Gusmao speaks to supporters after winning 2012 election in East Timor (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Australia and East Timor on Wednesday signed what Canberra’s foreign minister Julie Bishop called “a milestone” agreement on a maritime boundary between the two countries. The treaty ends a long a bitter dispute between the neighbouring countries and paves the way for exploitation of billions of dollars in gas and oil under the Timor Sea – with at least 70 percent of the revenue to go to impoverished East Timor. The agreement was also historic because it marked the first successful conclusion of “conciliation” negotiations to settle maritime differences under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  How much money the country, a half-island nation of 1.3 million people who are among the poorest in the world, ends up getting depends partly on what deal is worked out to drill and pipe the underwater gas.

Tough times for Southeast Asia’s migrant workers – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

JAKARTA/SINGAPORE — A year ago two young female migrant workers in Indonesia, including 26 year old Indonesian Siti Nurbaya, were cast at the center of an international murder mystery when they were arrested by police for their alleged role in the audacious, Le Carré-esque assassination by poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was carried out despite the usual bustling morning crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Preying on the women’s perceived vulnerability as relatively-poor migrant workers at the margins of society, defense lawyers contend that North Korean agents duped their clients into unwittingly carrying out the murder by bluffing they were being recruited for a series of made for TV pranks. As the trial of Nurbaya and her alleged accomplice from Vietnam rolled on last month in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur, another case was emerging that highlighted the perils facing migrants in Malaysia. Adelina Sao died in a Penang hospital on February 11 after she was found with head injuries and infected wounds on her limbs, succumbing after two years in Malaysia as one of around 400,000 foreign maids working in the country.

UK vies for post-Brexit Asia trade as EU lines up FTAs – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Even as the terms of its exit from the European Union remain undecided, the U.K. looks set to take on Brussels over access to Asian markets, with Indonesia’s growing economy set to be the first, and potentially crucial, battleground. While Britain tries to lay the groundwork for future trade agreements, the bloc it is leaving has already brokered a number of deals across the region. Last week, the EU and Indonesia held the fourth round of negotiations over a proposed free trade deal known as the Indonesia-European Union Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.  As those discussions were taking place in Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s hometown of Solo in central Java, the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced the appointment of Richard Michael as Britain’s official export finance representative in Indonesia.

UK targets Indonesia in first test of “Global Britain” plan – The Daily Telegraph

JAKARTA/LONDON — British engineers could be handed lucrative contracts with Indonesia to regenerate its ailing road and rail networks under a government push to boost trade and diplomatic ties with Southeast Asia after Brexit. The move would pit British firms against Chinese and Japanese giants who are vying for influence over Indonesia’s growing economy, in one of the first tests of the UK’s post-Brexit “Global Britain” push. “We are trying to get a greater slice of the action,” Moazzam Malik, the British ambassador in Indonesia, told the Telegraph as UK officials unveiled plans to increase business ties.

Indonesia joins China and South Korea on US trade hit list – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Indonesia is the latest Asian country to face American trade curbs after the U.S. Department of Commerce said it planned to slap anti-dumping duties of 92.52% to 276.65% on biodiesel imports from the archipelago. Argentina, another biodiesel producer, was also targeted by the Feb. 21 announcement, after U.S. businesses complained that they were being undercut by unfairly subsidized fuel from both countries. The commerce department said that exporters from Argentina and Indonesia respectively sold biodiesel in the U.S. at 60.44% to 86.41% and 92.52% to 276.65% below what it deems fair value. The U.S. International Trade Commission will make a final decision on April 6 on whether the imports have hurt U.S. producers. If the ruling is upheld, the duties recommended by the commerce department will effectively price Indonesian biodiesel out of the U.S. market. 

Palm oil producers in Asia want EU to step back from restrictions – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Major palm oil producers in Asia are hoping European governments will not go ahead with proposals that could undermine their businesses and damage the Indonesian and Malaysian economies. Proponents say palm oil requires less land to grow than other vegetable oil crops. “Palm oil is the most productive oil that exists today,” said Colin Lee, director of corporate affairs at Cargill Tropical Palm, which has around 80,000 hectares of oil palm plantation in the region.  Indonesia and Malaysia provide around 85% of the world’s palm oil. Palm oil makes up between 10% and 12% of their total exports, according to global bank HSBC.

Trump messages Asia in first union speech, demands “reciprocal” trade – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — A week after announcing tariffs on washing machine and solar panel imports, U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that “the era of [U.S.] economic surrender is totally over” during his maiden state of the union address. But the speech did not go into detail on trade with Asia or about the Trans Pacific Partnership, an American-led Asia-Pacific free trade deal that Trump withdrew from one year ago. During his hour and half address, which came Wednesday in Asia, Trump briefly recycled some of his previous trade rhetoric, saying he expects it to be “fair” and “reciprocal.” Pledging to “fix bad trade deals,” Trump promised to “protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.” Trump lauded Japanese carmakers Toyota and Mazda for announcing new production plants in the U.S. He also suggested that his recently announced tax cuts could spur inward investment

Despite growing economies, nearly one billion Asians in vulnerable jobs – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Despite decades of world-beating economic growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into middle class life, around 900 million more Asian workers remain in what the International Labour Organization deems “vulnerable” employment. Vulnerable employment refers to people who lack formal work arrangements or contracts, are often nonsalaried and working part-time in sectors such as agriculture or retail, and are sometimes self-employed. Such workers often can be fired without much notice and subsequently have no access to unemployment benefit.

Measuring the unmeasureable: Asia’s digital economies growing – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — When Deddy Kurnianto* jumps on his Yamaha M3 125 every morning, pondering how his day’s work will add to Indonesia’s gross domestic product is probably the last thing on his mind. “I try to pick up as many passengers as possible, and avoid the traffic jam,” he said, signing off with a forbearing chuckle about Jakarta’s notorious congestion. In the year since he started driving for Go-Jek, a local ride-hailing service operated via smartphone application, Kurnianto has seen his income rise by “about 30%.” App-based businesses such as Go-Jek and rivals Grab and Uber operate at the intersection of the “real” or “traditional” economy and its “digital” counterpart, undercutting or disrupting existing taxi firms.

Asia Pacific’s rich-poor gap widens fastest in China, Indonesia – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — One stereotype of Asian cities such as Jakarta and Manila is a stark juxtaposition between sprawling slums and gleaming shopping malls stocked with luxury goods — an image with some accuracy, going by a new World Bank report. About 250 million people live in slums across the East Asia Pacific region, which does not include India, the report found, even as the number of billionaires rose 30% per year from 2002 to 2014. Income inequality has risen across the region, chiefly driven by the growing rich-poor divide in Indonesia and China, according to data in Riding the Wave: An East Asian miracle for the 21st Century, a World Bank report released Monday.The findings suggest Asia’s continued high economic growth is less effective in curbing poverty than in past decades. “Income inequality is high or rising in most countries,” the report said.