The Portuguese were the first Europeans to set foot on the islands of Indonesia in their quest to seize control of the lucrative spice trade during the 16th century and undertake missionary efforts to spread the Roman Catholic faith.
But modern-day Portugal has largely missed out on tapping opportunities in the 240-million-strong Indonesian market, where other European countries have already gained a foothold, says Joaquim Moreira de Lemos, the new Portuguese ambassador to Indonesia.
“People know Portugal for Cristiano Ronaldo,” Lemos said in reference to the popular football star, during a visit to the Jakarta Globe’s office on Tuesday.
The ambassador added that his primary mission while in Indonesia was to strengthen economic and trade ties between the two countries.
Other European countries, such as France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany, have established a strong presence in Indonesia.
France, for example, is known for its major oil company, Total E&P Indonesie, and L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company.
Meanwhile, the Britain’s Standard Chartered Bank, Dutch oil company Shell and German telecommunications company Siemens are also well-established brands in the Indonesian market.
Lemos said he had plenty of work to do in introducing Portugal and its companies to Indonesia.
A veteran diplomat with 26 years of experience in Spain, France, Brazil and China, Lemos said he planned to bring representatives from 27 Portuguese companies, mostly from high-tech industries as well as an aircraft maintenance company, on a visit to Indonesia next week.
The visit is intended to tap into potential business opportunities in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
“We don’t make Ferraris like the Italians… but there is more about Portugal that you should know,” Lemos said.
He cited the Portuguese shoe industry as an example of one of the country’s less recognized industries.
Shoe-making, he said, is one of the oldest and possibly most traditional manufacturing industries that has managed to weather the current recession in Portugal.
Lemos said that Portugal had some of the world’s best shoe producers.
“It is either for leather or sewed shoes. But nobody really knows about it, right?” he said.
Lemos declined to name the companies that would be visiting Indonesia, but mentioned one that dealt with repairing both military and commercial airplanes.
“We can repair Airbus, we can do the maintenance. We will bring a company that can repair military aircraft, [such as] the F-16,” he said.
“We want to find niche opportunity here in Indonesia.”
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said last year that bilateral trade between the two countries rose 58 percent to $171 million in 2011 from the year before. No data was available for the year 2012.
Yudhoyono received the president of Portugal, Anibal Cavaco Silva, in May 2012. It was the first visit by a Portuguese head of state to Indonesia since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1950.
Both heads of state discussed topics ranging from politics and education, to sports and the economy.
Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, visited Portugal in 1960.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries turned sour in 1975 when Indonesia annexed East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, turning it into Indonesia’s 27th province.
In a referendum in 1999, East Timor declared its independence from Indonesia. The move subsequently led to the full restoration of diplomatic ties between Jakarta and Lisbon.
“It is all [history],” Lemos said of the past differences over East Timor, adding that he wanted to build stronger economic relations between the two countries.
The ambassador presented his credentials to President Yudhoyono last month.
Meanwhile, Portugal, home to a population of 10.7 million, is experiencing its third year of recession, which analysts have dubbed as the worst since the 1970s.
Portugal’s economy has been dragged down by a fall in consumption and investment, while public debt has eroded the nation’s fiscal stability.
A 78 billion euro bailout by the European Union has forced the government to undertake painful tax hikes and spending cuts.
Lemos said the austerity measures had forced Portuguese companies to seek out growing overseas market.
“The European market is our comfort zone, but the market is shrinking,” the envoy said.
“We have to go elsewhere. We want to have partnerships, create job opportunities and also [have a] safe haven in Southeast Asia. We have to find reliable partner in southeast Asia, why not Indonesia?”
Sumber : Jakartaglobe