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Indonesia: Aid and Trade Policies
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Foreign Aid, Trade, and Payments > Aid and Trade Policies


Indonesia's exports were vital to its economic development, as exports earned the foreign exchange that permitted Indonesia to purchase raw materials and machinery necessary for industrial production and growth. During the 1980s, about 25 percent of domestic production, or GDP, was exported. Although petroleum was the most important export, other exports included agricultural products such as rubber and coffee and a growing share of manufactured exports. In the late 1980s, the government classified about 70 percent of imports as raw materials or auxiliary goods for industry, about 25 percent of imports as capital goods, primarily transportation equipment, and only around 5 percent of imports as consumer goods.

Export earnings also contributed to Indonesia's ability to borrow from world financial markets and international development agencies. On average, about US$3 billion per year was borrowed during the 1980s. These borrowings primarily financed governmentsponsored development projects. However, increasing interest payment obligations in the late 1980s helped bring more restraint to government borrowing.

Indonesian exports were traditionally based on the country's rich natural resources and agricultural productivity, making the economy vulnerable to the vicissitudes of changing world prices for these types of products. For example, the Dutch colonial economy suffered when world sugar prices collapsed during the Great Depression, and fifty years later, the New Order endured the dramatic oil market collapse in the mid-1980s. Manufactured exports offered the prospect of more stable export markets during the 1980s, but even these products were threatened by increased trade protection among industrial countries. To avoid heavy reliance on a few trade partners, the government pursued several measures to diversify export markets, especially to other developing nations such as China and Indonesia's fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Substantial trade reforms during the 1980s contributed to the surge in manufactured exports from Indonesia. The most important manufactured export was plywood, whose domestic production was facilitated by the ban on log exports in the early 1980s. In 1990 plywood accounted for over 10 percent of total merchandise exports. Although not yet significant individually, a wide range of manufactured products, including electrical machinery, paper products, cement, tires, and chemical products, helped bring overall manufactured exports to 35 percent of merchandise exports, or a total of US$9 billion in 1990, up from less than US$2 billion in 1984.

The growth in non-oil exports helped Indonesia maintain a positive trade balance throughout the 1980s in spite of the oil market collapse. However, increases in imports, service costs such as foreign shipping, and interest payments on outstanding foreign debt all contributed to a worsening current account deficit in the late 1980s. The deficit more than doubled from US$1.1 billion in 1989 to US$2.4 billion in 1990. The 1991 current account deficit was predicted to reach as high as US$6 billion.

The government had successfully avoided a debt crisis in the early 1980s when many developing countries, including the neighboring Philippines, were forced to temporarily halt debt repayments. In a comparative study of Indonesia and other debtor nations, economists Wing Thye Woo and Anwar Nasution argued that Indonesia's success was due to two main factors: heavy reliance on long-term concessional loans and sustained high exports because of a willingness to devalue the exchange rate even when oil export revenues were buoyant. When dollar interest rates soared in the early 1980s, Indonesia's average interest rate on long-term debt was 16 percent compared with over 20 percent paid by Brazil and Mexico.

By 1990 Indonesia's total outstanding foreign debt had reached US$54 billion, more than double the amount in 1983. Over 80 percent of this debt was either lent directly to the government or guaranteed by the government. Measures to reduce foreign borrowing together with the rise in export earnings brought the debt service ratio from 35 percent in 1989 to 30 percent in 1990. Indonesia continued to rely heavily on borrowing from official creditors rather than private sources such as commercial banks or bond issues. In 1990 US$33 billion, or 75 percent, of government debt was from official creditors; of this amount, US$18.5 was at concessional terms. In 1990 US$5 billion in new loan commitments from official creditors were secured at an average interest rate of 5.7 percent, with an average maturity of twenty-three years, whereas US$1 billion in new commitments from private creditors entailed a 7.4 percent interest rate and an average of fifteen years maturity.

The mounting government concern over foreign debt led to the establishment of a Foreign Debt Coordinating Committee in 1991, which included ten cabinet ministers chaired by the coordinating minister for economics, finance, industry, and development supervision. The committee was given broad powers to document and coordinate all foreign borrowing that was related to either the central government budget or the state enterprise sector. Although in theory this debt excluded private-sector foreign borrowing, such borrowing could be included if the investment project received any state financing or supply contracts from state enterprises. The power of this committee was made apparent in its first initiative in 1991, which postponed until 1995 four major energy and petrochemical projects representing a total investment of US$10 billion.

Multilateral aid to Indonesia was long an area of international interest, particularly with the Netherlands, the former colonial manager of Indonesia's economy. Starting in 1967, the bulk of Indonesia's multilateral aid was coordinated by an international group of foreign governments and international financial organizations, the Inter-Governmental Group on Indonesia. The IGGI was established by the government of the Netherlands and continued to meet annually under Dutch leadership, although Dutch aid accounted for less than 2 percent of the US$4.75 billion total lending arranged through the IGGI for FY 1991.

The Netherlands, together with Denmark and Canada, suspended aid to Indonesia following the Indonesian army shootings of at least fifty demonstrators in Dili, Timor Timur Province, in November 1991 formed by the World Bank.

Indonesia's major aid donors -- Japan, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank -- contributed about 80 percent of IGGI-coordinated assistance, and were willing to continue assistance outside the IGGI framework. Other donors, however, such as the European Community, had charter clauses refusing financial assistance to governments that violated human rights. Although European Community did not sever its aid ties to Indonesia following the 1991 events in East Timor, human rights concerns were expected to affect subsequent negotiations

Data as of November 1992

Last Updated: November 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Indonesia was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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