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Economy in Brief

Indonesia Trade Balance Largely Steady through October, Even with Big Gains in Oil and Non-oil Exports
by Carol Stone December 1, 2005

Indonesia's trade data for October, reported this morning, highlight two unexpected aspects of that oil-producing nation's economic development. In October, its monthly trade surplus was $2.6 billion, a large figure, but not the highest ever, and more importantly, only modestly above the $2.3 billion average for 2003, a time when oil and gas prices were considerably lower than they are now. Thus, even as oil and gas exports have risen, so have the country's imports, restraining the widening of the trade surplus. Further, in dollar terms, non-oil exports have risen more than oil-related exports. Total exports were $7.2 billion in October, up 41% from a monthly average of $5.1 billion in 2003. Such large growth in exports emphasizes how remarkable it is that the trade balance has changed so little.

When the first energy crisis hit in the mid-1970s, one concern was over how to "recycle petro-dollars". What would oil-exporting nations do with the large amounts of dollars they were newly receiving? Clearly, this is now a non-issue. The ability of businesses and consumers, at least in Indonesia, to seek out foreign merchandise to import recycles petro-dollars quite effectively. Imports in October were $4.6 billion, up 15% from the year-ago month and 70% from their 2003 average.

Further, oil and gas are hardly the only items Indonesia exports. Over time, Indonesian industry has diversified, so that non-energy products now constitute by far the bulk of its exports. Recently this share has been just above 75% and sometimes in recent years, it has reached 80%. By contrast in the mid-1980s when the data began to include some detail, non-energy exports were only about 25% of total exports. Lately, a look at industrial production data through 2004 suggests that chemicals and fabricated metals have been sources for this growth. Expansion of the chemical sector makes sense in light of the petroleum products already there. Interestingly, the wood and paper products that one might have traditionally thought of for Indonesia are no longer contributors to growth; their industrial production has been declining outright over the past several years.

Monthly Averages
Indonesia: Foreign Trade Mil.$, Seas Adj* Oct 2005 Sept 2005 Oct 2004
2004 2003 2002
Trade Balance 2579.6 2407.8 2254.1 1916.5 2375.6 2155.8
Exports 7191.4 7226.2 6259.1 5794.8 5088.1 4763.2
  Oil & Gas 1820.9 1636.4 1401.6 1294.0 1136.9 1009.4
  Non-Oil & Gas 5370.5 5589.8 4857.5 4500.8 3951.2 3753.8
Imports 4611.8 4818.4 4005.0 3878.3 2712.5 2607.4
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