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Sunday, 19 December, 1999, 14:08 GMT
Israel angles for trade with Indonesia

East Bali field Agriculture is one area which Israel believes will be profitable for trade


An Israeli delegation has gone to Indonesia to try and develop trade relations between the two countries.

The Israeli delegation - which includes representatives from the Industry and Trade Ministry and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce - is expected to investigate trade openings in agriculture, telecommunications and high-tech industries.

Almost immediately after being elected in October, the new Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid publicly expressed interest in opening economic and trade relations with Israel.

But Indonesia subsequently postponed the plan after an uproar among Muslim groups opposed to any contacts with Israel.

There have been a series of demonstrations against the planned links.

Secret

Israel had hoped to keep the visit secret until after it had happened, to avoid exposing President Wahid to further protests.

"We wanted it to be publicised after they returned," an Israeli foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

"But Wahid claims he can deal with the protests...I still hope there won't be protests while they are there."

Because of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Indonesia - the world's largest Muslim country - has not wanted formal relations with Israel.

But Indonesia has already started allowing Israelis to receive visas direct from its embassies. Until now, Israelis had to go through Jordan or Singapore to enter Indonesia.

President's hopes

President Wahid, who has made clear that pulling Indonesia out of its worst economic crisis in more than 30 years is his top priority, sees Israel as a potentially lucrative export market.

Earlier this month, President Wahid said that Israel was investing $200m in Indonesia, but only through third parties which the president said would be Dutch or US firms.

In November, President Wahid toured the Middle East and visited Jordan but did not travel to Israel.

At present, Israel is still officially on the Indonesian trade black list, according to Israeli officials.

Israel in response requires Indonesian businesses to receive special licenses to export to Israel.

Israeli trade officials say that successes in Indonesia would benefit the Jewish state's effort to break into other Asian markets, including Malaysia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

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See also:
09 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Wahid aims to bring back the billions
06 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Israel welcomes Indonesia trade offer
05 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Wahid eyes world stage
21 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia's Islamic presidency?
05 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Israel to invest in Indonesia

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