No deadline for trade deal: Payne
Foreign Minister Marise Payne insists there is no end-of-year deadline for signing the freetrade agreement with Indonesia despite speculation a date would be set during a meeting yesterday with her Indonesian counterpart in Bali.
Senator Payne and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi appeared relaxed as they emerged from a 45-minute meeting on the sidelines of the Bali Democracy Forum where they briefly discussed Australia’s review into the possible relocation of its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It was the second bilateral meeting between the two ministers since Scott Morrison first suggested Australia was open to moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and since a flurry of text messages from Ms Retno to Ms Payne warning of the potential damage to the bilateral relationship were leaked to the media.
The two also met on the sidelines of the APEC conference in Papua New Guinea last month.
Unease in Jakarta over the possibility of an embassy move has strained the relationship and prompted the Indonesian gov- ernment to put on ice the longnegotiated Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which was to have been signed last month.
Instead Jakarta has made it clear it is waiting for confirmation from Canberra that the embassy will remain in Tel Aviv before it agrees to finalise the deal.
Mr Morrison told President Joko Widodo during a meeting at the ASEAN summit in Singapore last month that a review was under way and a decision would be made before Christmas.
Senator Payne described her meeting yesterday with Ms Retno as “extremely warm and extremely positive” with the two discussing ways of co-ordinating assistance for the return to Myanmar of willing Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh, through the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre in Jakarta.
Senator Payne confirmed they discussed “briefly the process of the (Israel embassy) review and the timing the Prime Minister has committed to in relation to that which is about to come this month”.
But she swept aside suggestions by a senior Indonesian minister that the deal would be signed by the end of this year, saying: “We haven’t put a timeline on that. I’ve said it will be signed when it’s ready.”
Indonesia is one of the most steadfast supporters of the Palestinian cause and has warned Canberra the relocation would “harm the bilateral relationship”.
Australia’s ambiguous position on the issue has caused some anger in Indonesia where small groups of protesters staged demonstrations outside the Jakarta embassy and Surabaya consulate last week demanding Australia drop the idea.
Indonesia’s Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said this week it was now up to the two countries’ foreign ministers to set a date for the potential signing of the IA-CEPA.
But Evan Laksmana, a senior researcher with Jakarta’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the Palestinian issue was “at the core of Indonesian foreign policy”.