INDONESIA: ASEAN MEMBERS MEET TO DISCUSS ECONOMIC SLUMP

English/Nat
Southeast Asian finance ministers said on Saturday they needed more help from the world’s wealthy nations – the United States, Japan and Europe – to enable Asia to recover from its worst economic crisis in decades.
The ministers, from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who met in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Saturday, also discussed the possibility of setting up a supervisory body to keep an eye on the region’s turbulent economies.
The nine members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations came together to discuss ways they could help pull each other out of the regional economic slump which began last year.
They are keen to protect and promote trade between ASEAN members which accounts for more than one-hundred-and-50-billion (b) U-S dollars annually.
Malaysia has proposed a system which bypasses the dollar and allows goods to be traded between ASEAN nations in local currencies.
The Philippines has backed the proposal, but Thailand remains sceptical.
No firm decision on the issue was reached on Saturday.
Another suggestion raised at the meeting was a plan to create a body which would supervise inflation, lending practices and capital movement around the region.
That plan was endorsed during November’s APEC meeting, and came a step closer to fruition on Saturday.
Despite all the talk of Asian countries aiding other Asian countries, there were also calls for help from the U-S and Europe.
The Indonesian Finance Minister Ma’rie Mohammed called on the United States to encourage more investment in the Southeast Asian region and urged U-S banks to open more lines of credit and provide other assistance to troubled Asian countries.
He criticised European countries for what he called a protectionist attitude, and for not doing enough to help Southeast Asian countries in difficulty.
Ma’rie also pledged that his country would work closely with industrialised nations to speed recovery.
SOUNDBITE: (English)
“As the other colleagues expressed their concern about Indonesia, we will hand by hand cooperate closely with international agencies – the World Bank, I-M-F, E-D-B and other countries, including G-7 and overcome the situation in the region, including Indonesia.”
SUPER CAPTION: Ma’rie Mohammed, Indonesian Finance Minister
Indonesia’s economy has been the worst hit of the ASEAN nations.
Stock markets in the country have plummeted in recent months.
And with its huge population of over two-hundred million (m), it has had a profound knock-on effect on its neighbours.
It is hoped that the 43 billion (b) U-S dollar I-M-F bailout it has received will create favourable conditions for a long-term recovery for the island nation.
But the I-M-F loan came attached to conditions stipulating harsh economic reforms in Indonesia, which are bound to be unpopular with local people.
Soaring food prices have sparked riots and demonstrations across the country.
However, agreements to keep the price of cooking oil and rice low are thought to be having a positive effect.
Officials are also hoping to quell the unrest by bolstering the rupiah, which has lost 70 per cent of its value in the past seven months.
One immediate remedy could be a currency board, which would fix a value for the rupiah to the dollar.
That plan has met widespread international opposition.
ASEAN members did not want to comment on the plan, and Ma’rie indicated institution of the scheme could still be a long way off.
SOUNDBITE: (English)
“To put the currency board into success, needs preparation so that we can build a credible currency bond.”
SUPER CAPTION: Ma’rie Mohammed, Indonesian Finance Minister
SOUNDBITE: (English)
Question: “There is a lot of concern about Indonesia backsliding on those issues.”

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