Indonesian President Widodo has promised that his country will join Obama’s trans-Pacific trade deal. This means the Southeast Asian nation is set to become part of the world’s largest free trade zone.
President Barack Obama scored a victory for his contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on Monday when his visiting Indonesian counterpart, Joko Widodo, vowed to join the group.
“Indonesia is an open economy, and with a population of 250 million, we are the largest economy in Southeast Asia,” Widodo said, speaking from the Oval Office, “Indonesia intends to join the TPP.”
With the Indonesian president’s pledge, he risks the ire of economic nationalists back home.
The deal, seen by some as an attempt to counter the growing economic power of China in the region, has already been signed by Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Vietnam and the US – making it the biggest free trade area in the world.
Obama has struggled to gather support for the pact in the US, however, with many of his fellow Democrats joining their Republican colleagues in Congress to shower skepticism on the deal. Hilary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 election, has expressed concerns that the deal fails to reach the “high bar” she expects for developing US interests abroad.
Widodo blessing a boon for Obama
Widodo’s support represents a political victory for Obama, who described a “key strategic partnership” between their two countries at the leaders’ meeting in the White House.
“Obviously I have a very personal interest in Indonesia, given the fact that I spent a bit of time there as a child and have relatives who are Indonesian,” Obama told the press.
“But what is also true is that our partnership is very much in the interests of the United States, given Indonesia’s large population, its leadership in the region, its democratic traditions, the fact that it is a large Muslim country with a tradition of tolerance and moderation, and its role in trade and commerce and economic development.”
Widodo’s trip to the US was the first by an Indonesian president in 10 years and came exactly one year after he swept to power on a wave of popular support. He promised sweeping change, drawing comparisons to Obama in 2008. In surviving amongst the oligarchs entrenched in Indonesian politics for as long as he has, Widodo has already defied critics who expected him to stumble quickly.
After the meeting with Obama, Widodo’s spokesman announced that the president would be cutting his trip short – skipping a trip to San Francisco planned for Tuesday to address the wildfires currently ravaging Indonesia and sending huge clouds of smoke spotted as far as Thailand.