The UK Prime Minister David Cameron today landed in Indonesia to begin a four-day tour of countries in south-east Asia as he attempts to drum up trade for British companies.
Trade deals totalling more than £750 million are to be signed during the visit, but the hope is that the trip will lead to more deals in the medium and long-terms with a region that is expected to grow rapidly over the next decade. The UK will also make available up to £1 billion to finance infrastructure projects such as a sewage treatment system in Jakarta and geothermal projects across the country.
The trade mission comes as Chancellor George Osborne is in Paris to meet ministers there to discuss the UK’s ongoing re-negotiation with the EU ahead of an in-out referendum promised by the end of 2017.
The UK government has explicitly stated: “As the largest foreign investor in ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations), the EU should seize on this position to secure a new trade deal. Australia, Japan and China are already ahead of the game, having implemented free-trade deals with the south-east Asian bloc.” The EU is currently negotiating a controversial trade deal with the USA, known as TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).
During the Prime Minister’s four-day visit he will travel to Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia as well as today’s trip to Indonesia’s capital Jakarta. He is being accompanied by a small number of ministers as well as representatives from 31 businesses from across the country. As is usual on visits such as these, he will be under pressure from certain groups to raise issues surrounding Human Rights with countries such as Indonesia where a British woman is on death row following a conviction for smuggling cocaine.
The issue of international terrorism, particularly in relation to the continuing threat posed by Islamic State, will also be discussed. A number of people from Malaysia and Indonesia are thought to have left to join the organisation in recent times, with the UK also seeing a significant minority of people depart for Syria this year from its Muslim population.
The visit will be the first by a British Prime Minister to the headquarters of ASEAN, which has 10 members, and comes following the appointment of Richard Graham MP as trade envoy to ASEAN Economic Community which is due to launch later this year.
by Daniel Grummitt