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Making a Difference: In Conversation with H.E. Kurt Kunz, Swiss Ambassador to Indonesia

NOW! PEOPLE | 1 August 2019

NOW! Jakarta welcomed H.E. Kurt Kunz, Swiss Ambassador to Indonesia, and discussed Indonesia’s prospect as ‘a market for the future’, the new SwissCham and sustainable tourism development.

Swiss-Indonesia Relations: Making a Difference
H.E. Kurt Kunz, Swiss Ambassador to Indonesia. Photo by Raditya Fadilla/NOW!JAKARTA

Welcome to Indonesia! Please tell us a bit about your background and your journey to this new posting in Indonesia.

Thank you! I am glad to be here in this beautiful country. I am a social scientist by training and started my professional life as a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross in El Salvador. Many things have happened since then: I joined the Swiss Foreign Ministry and I have been posted in Bern, Ottawa, Brasilia, Vienna, Brussels, Madrid, Bogotá and now here in Jakarta. My wife has been accompanying me throughout this journey and we have grown-up children. I had the chance to deal both with bilateral and multilateral diplomacy as well as with development cooperation, all of which is now a strong asset as Ambassador to Indonesia, where we sustain a substantial cooperation program — to Timor Leste and to ASEAN.

“Switzerland sees Indonesia as a market for the future.” That’s a very positive statement on your website. Does reality live up to the promise?

Don’t forget the present! Indonesia is already a big market. But for sure, we live in the present, and at the same time always preparing for the future. Last year, we signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between EFTA and Indonesia, and we are negotiating a new bilateral Agreement to promote and protect investments and we want to update our Agreement to avoid double taxation. By strengthening the normative framework for our economic relations, we want to ease the possibilities for trade and investments in both directions. Swiss companies established in Indonesia are doing well and new companies are arriving. 

Can you tell me a bit more about the CEPA? When will it enter in force?

The CEPA has been signed by Indonesia and the four EFTA countries in Jakarta on 16 December 2018. Negotiations lasted for seven years! The CEPA is now in the Parliamentarian ratification processes. It will enter into force after at least two EFTA States and Indonesia have deposited their instrument of ratification. We hope that this will be the case in 2020.

It will substantially ease trade and convey additional legal certainty in a broad array of areas. It is good for economic actors to prepare in order to take advantage of this new framework.

Indonesia has also been a priority country for economic development cooperation since 2008. Is this ‘aid’ status affected by Indonesia’s elevation to a G20 country? How has this development cooperation changed?

There is no immediate link between the two: Indonesia became a G20 member in 2008, about the time we started our program for economic cooperation. Indonesia is one of the eight priority countries, which Switzerland chose in the “global south” due to its positive outlook and our impression that our cooperation could make a difference. The country is fulfilling its promise: Indonesia is on a steady development path, caring for social inclusion, paying attention to economic governance and reform and opening up towards the outer world. Its growing focus on human capital development is promising and offers different points where Swiss cooperation can be of special relevance, one of them being vocational education and training.

There are more than 150 Swiss companies operating here. Are the regulations and legal environment always beneficial to overseas investors? Are some companies still complaining? Or all are happy with the economic environment?

The regulatory framework has in general slightly improved over the last years. Nevertheless, difficulties and questions continue to exist. Switzerland and Indonesia are opting for open dialogue to address them, a main instrument being the Joint Economic and Trade Commission. The Commission held its seventh meeting on 15 July and included business representatives from Switzerland and from Indonesia.

Other instances for exchange exist around the year. Early February, our Law and Justice Ministers signed the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance, and the meeting served also to address concerns in the field of intellectual property. The Embassy strives to enhance discussion channels that allow Swiss companies to address their concerns and share views on possible solutions or improvement measures directly with relevant stakeholders. 

Our general feeling is that local Swiss companies continue to substantially invest, be it into the expansion of production sites or into new innovation and distribution centres. This shows that the Indonesian market enjoys a priority in future growth strategies.

How are Swiss Business Hub and the newly formed Swiss Chamber of Commerce doing? What is the difference in their roles?

It is now exactly two years since the Swiss Business Hub has been inaugurated and started its initiatives. Its key mandate is to draw attention of Swiss SMEs towards Indonesia as an attractive growth market. We are optimistic that the message is being heard. And we are confident that the vast potential will be ever more fully exploited and more SMEs will settle with local operations or via distribution partner models. 

SwissCham Indonesia is one year younger and has been founded on 1 August 2018. It is an important platform focusing on promoting trade, investment and the development of relations between the Swiss and Indonesian business communities. Through dialogue, joint analysis, advocacy and business networking SwissCham wants to support its members, be they companies or individuals. It nicely complements the Swiss Business Hub.

Arriving in a new context requires learning and adaptation. A few months ago, a so-called “Swiss Center Indonesia”, based in BSD Tangerang, started its operations. The focus lies on offering interested companies incubator type of services for a smooth, hassle free and cost effective market entry. 

Switzerland has been supporting a Sustainable Tourism Development program here. Can you tell us more about it – and other relevant Swiss projects you are particularly proud of?

Switzerland implements an economic cooperation program designed to assist Indonesia in improving public service delivery as well as creating a more competitive private sector. We put a strong emphasis on sustainability, to ensure long-lasting and environmentally sound development results.

The tourism sector is a source of revenue and can create a significant number of jobs. Among other projects, we support the Lombok Polytechnic of Tourism in order to address the shortage of qualified manpower.

Fostering skills development is one of our flagship activities in Indonesia, dating back to the 70s. You may remember the famous Bandung Polytechnic of Manufacturing, the so-called Polman. Skills development is the foundation in most of our work; and several of our projects are specifically dedicated to vocational education and training. 

We also have projects addressing macro-economy to help the government to collect more and spend better, and we work in infrastructure in the areas of transportation, waste, energy and water.

What are your personal goals while you are here? Are they the same as your professional goals?

When I applied for this posting in Jakarta, I was also motivated by the prospect to discover a very diverse and beautiful country in one of the most dynamic regions of this earth. I thoroughly enjoy talking with people, learning about their perspectives on life and doing so not only in Jakarta. Hiking is one of our passions that lead us to discover remoter areas. My personal goals combine well with the professional ones: to make a difference when contributing to deepen and broaden our relations with Indonesia, with ASEAN and with Timor Leste.

Many thanks, H.E. Kurt Kunz