East and West Timor – Building Business across the Border
Cross border trade between Timor-Leste and neighboring Indonesia has provided an opportunity to build bridges and markets yet, although good intentions exist on both side, remains relatively inaccessible to most Timorese suppliers. At first glimpse, it might be hard to tell why. Businessmen and women in West Timor have money and the desire to spend; farmers in East Timor have product and the aspiration to sell. What’s gone wrong here?
The cross border event hosted by Peace Dividend Trust during December of last year on the border of Bobonaro and West Timor, under the guidance of Matchmaking Associates Ilidio Ximenes and Brigida Soares, has shed significant light on the subject.
What was the first obvious barrier to improving the frequency and success rate of border trade? Inadequate communication. This was one of the first meetings the participating parties (Timorese suppliers, Indonesian buyers, Indonesian Customs Officers, the Bononaro Chamber of Commerce, and the Government of Timor-Leste) have had since Timor-Leste’s independence.
Once people got talking, matters got interesting. Regular trade between the two countries, which all agreed benefit both sides of the border, is indeed in reach. It will just take time and energy to make sure it’s done right. The Indonesian border representatives expressed the importance of understanding the regulations and quality criteria, used by their agents to inspect incoming international goods, including Timorese product. The government of Timor-Leste, in some capacity, should continue following these matters up to ensure this is just a temporary problem, remedied through the provision of information and support, and then regularly monitored.
If not, exporters will continue to waste their efforts attempting to move goods that do not meet Indonesian standards. This loses them both time and money, especially if you’re dealing in the cattle trade (an industry with great potential in Timor-Leste), where the product needs to be fed and watered during quarantine. If no accessible and easily digestible explanation of regulations exists, new and veteran exporters may become frustrated and call it quits. Also worth noting, if no communication channels exist between exporters and border agents, changes in standard specifications may also frustrate and discourage further trade.
On a more positive note, what was also clear when Timorese suppliers sat and talked with Indonesian buyers was how great of an opportunity border trade is to building a sustainable income from abroad. It’s not aid money or charity money. It will stay in country and “hari’i Timor-Leste”.
One Indonesian buyer, with an interest in local agricultural products like mung beans, soy beans, corn (to name a few) stood up and said (this being loosely translated from Tetum) “I want to buy and you have the products. You just have to tell me what you have and I’ll buy it. Just call me and tell me.” The need, and importance, of communication was emphasized repetitively. (Also important, if you are a local supplier and are interested in exporting these products, please get in touch with us at email@example.com.)
For other encouraging signs, I didn’t have to look any farther than the analytics from PDT’s BuildingMarkets.org web portal. In June of 2010, the website was translated into Bahasa Indonesia and the number of hits since then speaks for itself.
Successes were made at the event. Telephone numbers were exchanged. Buyers and sellers now have a better idea of what to expect when attempting to transport goods across the border. The two country’s governments were there to understand where both sides were coming from, and to get in their say as well. Now, all participants have a solid foundation to build on when improving the border trade system in place. Further communication, whether through events like these or other mediums, is instrumental in achieving a system that encourages, rather than obstructs, border trade.