Pence Urges Indonesia to Open Economy More as U.S. Scrutinizes Trade

JAKARTA, Indonesia--U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Indonesia to open up its $900 billion economy more to U.S. businesses, pointing to $10 billion in recent deals as a sign of the potential.

"The truth is, I say respectfully, there's much more that must be done to improve the business and investment climate in Indonesia," Mr. Pence told businesspeople Friday, at the end of a two-day visit before leaving for Australia. His trip through the region had earlier taken him to South Korea and Japan.

Mr. Pence pointed to intellectual-property issues, a lack of transparency and local-manufacture requirements that U.S. businesses have said hurt investment. He said the U.S. is seeking to cut investment barriers to "create a truly level playing field," and that he hopes to expand trade ties.

The Trump administration recently said it would scrutinize Indonesia and 15 other nations for anticompetitive practices.

Mr. Pence also highlighted what he said were more than $10 billion in trade and investment deals being signed by 11 U.S. companies, though at least some reflect business over the past year or pending deals. A General Electric Co. spokesman said its inclusion stemmed from power plants set up in 2016, while Pertamina, Indonesia's state oil-and-gas company, said it plans to buy liquefied natural gas from Exxon Mobil Corp. for 20 years beginning in 2025.

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said other deals included one for Lockheed Martin Corp. to upgrade fighter jets, and a $34 million one signed by Halliburton Co. in February to develop geothermal resources.

The U.S. is among Indonesia's largest sources of foreign investment, much of it in petroleum and mining. A 2013 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and USAID said U.S. companies were the top investors over the previous eight years, pouring in about $65 billion. Companies like Exxon, Chevron Corp. and Freeport-McMoRan Inc., developer of one of the world's largest gold mines in the country's remote east, have been here for decades.

Some major U.S. companies have been in the spotlight in Indonesia for unfortunate reasons in recent months: Alphabet Inc.'s Google is being pressed to pay more in taxes, and the government has cut ties with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. over an unfavorable research report.

Freeport has faced headwinds as well, including threats to bar its exports as the government seeks greater control over the company, including through a long-delayed plan to purchase shares. Mr. Pence didn't mention the nature of talks involving Freeport in his remarks Friday.

President Joko Widodo is seeking more foreign investment to help fund the railways, power plants and ports that the sprawling archipelago nation needs to boost economic growth beyond 5%. Foreign investment is at record levels, but remains relatively small, in part because of unfavorable regulations and concerns about the rule of law, foreign investors say.

Write to Ben Otto at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 21, 2017 09:17 ET (13:17 GMT)