Indonesia Govt raises foreign ownership limit

Indonesia Govt raises foreign ownership limit
Local residents are given the chance to visit the Kuala Namu International Airport in Deli Serdang, North Sumatra before the inauguration of the newly built airport on July 25, 2013. A new government regulation allows foreigners to own as much as 49 percent of airports and 100 percent of power plants built under public-private partnerships.

INDONESIA - After years of debate, the government has finally completed the revision of the negative investments list (DNI) and raised the level of foreign ownership in a number of business sectors including transportation terminals, seaports and power plants.

Under the new DNI, which is expected to be signed soon by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the maximum limit on foreign ownership in land transportation facilities such as bus terminals and train stations will be set at 49 per cent, up from the previous zero, Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) chairman Mahendra Siregar told reporters on Tuesday.

With the new regulation, foreigners can now own up to 100 per cent of power plants built under public-private partnerships (PPPs), on the condition that the power plants have the capacity of at least 10 megawatts (MW). For power plants with capacities up to 10 MW, foreign ownership is limited to 49 per cent.

"For these PPP projects, we should have greater openness for foreigners because we really have a pressing need to develop our infrastructure," Mahendra said.

The new DNI would also allow foreign investors to own up to 95 per cent of shares in the management of toll roads and water utilities - relatively unchanged, but it was necessary to include the rule to provide legal certainty for foreign investors, he said.

However, the foreign ownership cap in airports, which had initially been expected to be relaxed to 100 per cent, had to be set at 49 per cent due to the conflicting Transportation Law that stipulates local investors must still be the majority shareholders in such businesses, according to the BKPM chief.

Meanwhile, the foreign ownership cap in the pharmaceutical industry will be raised to 85 per cent from the current 75 per cent; in the venture-capital financial sector it will be raised to 85 per cent from 80 per cent; while in the advertising sector it will be raised to 49 per cent from zero, specifically for ASEAN investors.

The DNI liberalization, however, was also complemented by tighter restrictions on foreign ownership in sectors such as farming and logistics, as the government aims to safeguard local firms from the influx of foreign competition.

In the farming sector, maximum foreign ownership will be capped at 30 per cent from the existing 95 per cent, while in the distribution and storage industry it will be set at 33 per cent.

"The guidance of the President in the Cabinet meeting held on Nov. 14, 2013, in which we all concurred, was that [the DNI revision] must prioritize national interests to boost the competitiveness of local industries," Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa said.

Revision of the DNI was necessary to lure more foreign direct investment (FDI), the growth of which has decelerated to a three-year low, economists have said. More FDI will also be needed to strengthen the country's capital account, which is likely to face pressure due to limited portfolio inflows amid the prevailing global uncertainty in 2014.

However, the plan to revise the DNI, which had been on the table since 2010, was met with opposition due to growing nationalistic sentiments ahead of next year's elections, with critics calling on the government to safeguard Indonesia's strategic sectors from the influx of foreign competitors.

Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) chairman Sofjan Wanandi said that local businesses were "quite satisfied" with the new DNI, which he argued was a win-win solution for both foreign and local investors.

"I believe this will improve our investment climate ahead of the upcoming political year," he said. "The DNI will provide certainty for them [foreign investors], so that they will not be hesitant about investing here."

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