Mike Pence discusses barriers to US companies with Indonesian president

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“The president and I spoke about that very candidly and very respectfully,” Pence told round table discussion with business executives on Friday in Jakarta. (Reuters)

US Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday he discussed with Indonesian President Joko Widodo barriers to U.S. companies operating in Southeast Asia’s largest economy. Pence arrived in Jakarta late on Wednesday to boost a strategic partnership between the world’s second- and third-largest democracies, but a series of disputes Indonesia has had with American firms has ruffled ties.

“The president and I spoke about that very candidly and very respectfully,” Pence told round table discussion with business executives on Friday in Jakarta.

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Over the past six months, Indonesia has wrestled with mining giant Freeport McMoRan, demanding the company divest 51 percent of its shares in its Papua-based gold and copper mine, and has demanded that Google Inc. settle unpaid taxes of more than $400 million. Jakarta also scrubbed JP Morgan from its list of primary bond dealers after what was deemed a negative research report.

Nevertheless, Pence was due to witness the signing of more than $10 billion in memoranda of understanding with U.S. companies in Indonesia on Friday, a White House official said.

The 11 deals would be signed with companies including Exxon Mobil, Lockheed Martin and General Electric . Pence is on the final day of a visit to Indonesia before departing at midday for Australia.

“We think there are opportunities to clear open the way for American companies to participate more greatly in Indonesia,” Pence said.

Lin Neumann, managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, said most of the agreements were with energy companies, which have been making “a big push”.

Some U.S. companies have a technological edge while Indonesia has a rising demand for power, “so that’s a good fit”, Neumann told Reuters. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Bill Tarrant)