* China could increase import quota by 500,000 T - Li
* Indonesia exported 3.73 mln T of palm oil to China in 2017
* China-Indonesia discussed closer economic ties (Adds comment, background)
By Agustinus Beo Da Costa
BOGOR, Indonesia, May 7 (Reuters) - China is open to increasing its import quota of Indonesian palm oil by at least 500,000 tonnes, Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday, speaking after a meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the country’s presidential palace in Bogor.
Li’s comment came at a joint news conference with Widodo before the Chinese premier travelled to Jakarta to visit the headquarters of ASEAN. The two countries also signed a number of memoranda of understanding, including on the construction of dams in Indonesia’s Sulawesi island and South Kalimantan province on Borneo.
China currently consumes 5 million tonnes of palm oil, said Li, scheduled to fly on Tuesday from Jakarta to Tokyo for a summit with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, exported 3.73 million tonnes of palm oil to China last year, a leading destinations after India and the European Union.
Li said boosting palm oil imports was aimed at helping smallholder farmers in Indonesia, and said China also planned to increase coffee and tropical fruit imports. “Indonesian agricultural products have an advantage, we do not have many of them in China,” Li told reporters.
According to data from Indonesia’s investment agency, China was the third-largest foreign investor in Indonesia last year, contributing around 10 percent of total foreign direct investment.
“We discussed an increase in economic cooperation including trade,” said President Widodo, speaking at the news conference.
“As a country with a 1.37 billion population, China is a big market for Indonesia. I stressed about exports increasing from Indonesia to China.” said Widodo. Indonesia’s palm oil exports have come under pressure in Europe where lawmakers have approved draft measures on power reform that include plans to ban the use of palm oil in biodiesel from 2021, even though the E.U. recently removed anti-dumping duties for imports of biodiesel containing palm oil for some Indonesian producers.
China sees Indonesia as a key partner in its Belt and Road initiative that aims to bolster a sprawling network of land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
Indonesia said last week it was seeking ways to accelerate a $5 billion high-speed rail project being built by a consortium of local and Chinese state firms, which is facing obstacles from land ownership issues. (Reporting by Agustinus Da Costa and Bernadette Christina Munthe Writing by Fransiska Nangoy Editing by Ed Davies and Kenneth Maxwell)