Jakarta’s zero tariff move to lift Palestinian imports

The agreement took six years to negotiate. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 March 2019

Jakarta’s zero tariff move to lift Palestinian imports

  • Waiver is step toward major trade deal, minister says 

JAKARTA: The Indonesian market could be a testing ground for Palestinian exports’ competitiveness following the introduction of a zero tariff policy.

An agreement with Indonesia on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products came into effect in mid-February after 2.5 years since the idea was floated by members of a Palestinian trade delegation attending an international trade expo in Jakarta in Oct 2016.

The initial waiver will apply to fresh and dried dates, and virgin olive oil. Palestine has asked for about 20 export products to be included in the policy.

Tariffs previously were set at 5 percent.

Djatmiko Bris Witjaksono, director of foreign trade analysis and trade center at the Ministry of Trade, said the agreement offers preferential treatment for Palestinian imports, but it will be up to the business community to show its willingness to buy the products.

“Palestine may have to compete with similar products imported from other countries. If the supply and product continuity is reliable, importers will eventually buy from them,” he told Arab News.

“The tariff exemption is significant and should be reflected in the products’ pricing in the market. Eventually it will boost the competitiveness of Palestinian products in Indonesia.” Witjaksono said.

Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, vice chairwoman of international relations at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the zero tariff policy will boost trade between the two countries.

“Now we have to look at the market opportunity to identify the goods from Indonesia we can export and vice versa. It looks like there is a market there for our food and beverage products,” she said.

Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said the elimination of Indonesian tariffs on Palestinian dates and olive oil began on Feb. 21, when Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to Palestine.

Zuhair Al-Shun, Palestine’s ambassador to Indonesia, was also told about the tariff move in a meeting with Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Feb. 28.

“We hope we will be able to enjoy Palestinian dates in the upcoming Ramadan,” Lukita said.

Both countries are considering expanding the policy to create a preferential trading agreement, the trade minister said.

Al-Shun said Palestine has provided a list of products to be considered for preferential treatment by Indonesia.

“The list is being reviewed by the Indonesian government. We also welcome Indonesian products that will be exported to Palestine,” Al-Shun said.

Lukita said the trade agreement is part of Indonesia’s unwavering support for Palestine.

Trade between Indonesia and Palestine was worth $3.5 million in 2018. Indonesian exports to Palestine include coffee, tea, bread and other foodstuffs, while dates and olive oil make up the bulk of its imports.

The zero tariff policy is expected to boost date imports by 11.62 percent within a year.

Lebanon plans to charge for WhatsApp calls -minister

Updated 2 min 43 sec ago

Lebanon plans to charge for WhatsApp calls -minister

  • Jamal al-Jarrah said that cabinet had agreed a charge of 20 cents per day for calls used by applications including Whatsapp, Facebook calls and FaceTime
  • The fee could potentially bring in up to $250 million in annual revenues from the country's estimated 3.5 million VoIP users

BEIRUT: Lebanon's cabinet has agreed to impose a fee on calls over WhatsApp and other similar applications, as part of efforts to raise revenues in the country's 2020 draft budget, a minister said on Thursday.
Lebanon has one of the world's highest debt burdens, low growth and crumbling infrastructure and is facing strains in its financial system from a slowdown in capital inflows. The government has declared a state of "economic emergency" and promised steps to ward off a crisis.
Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said on Thursday that cabinet had agreed a charge of 20 cents per day for calls via voice over internet protocol (VoIP), used by applications including Facebook-owned Whatsapp, Facebook calls and FaceTime.
The fee could potentially bring in up to $250 million in annual revenues from the country's estimated 3.5 million VoIP users.
The country has only two service providers, both state-owned, and some of the most costly mobile rates in the region.
Lebanese TV channels cited Telecoms Minister Mohamed Choucair as saying the fee would "not be applied without something in return" which he would announce next week.
Finance Mininster Ali Hassan Khalil said last month there were no new taxes or fees in the draft 2020 budget he sent to cabinet.
Lebanon is under pressure to approve the 2020 budget to unlock some $11 billion pledged at a donor conference last year, conditional on fiscal and other reforms.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has said the government would work to further reduce the 2020 budget deficit.
Foreign allies are not yet fully convinced the Lebanese government is serious about reforms, and a French envoy last month criticised the pace of work.
The government only approved the 2019 budget halfway through this year. Lebanon had until 2017 had gone 12 years without a budget.
Ahead of a cabinet session on Thursday, Jarrah said ministers would discuss a proposal to raise value-added tax by 2 percentage points in 2021 and then another 2 percentage points in 2022, until it reaches 15%.
After ministers agree the 2020 draft budget, they must send it to parliament for approval. (Reporting by Ellen Francis. Editing by Jane Merriman)