The Trade Ministry held a virtual business matchmaking event on Tuesday to help connect food and beverage (F&B) small and medium enterprises (SMEs) looking for potential buyers in the United States.

The event was part of the government’s strategy to stimulate the SME sector and boost exports toward reviving growth in mitigating the economic impacts of the pandemic.

The virtual event facilitated 12 export-oriented SMEs in connecting with four American F&B companies, including Los Angeles-based Jans Enterprise Corp. and Ontario-based food trading giant Takari International, Inc., both located in the state of California.

The Indonesian Trade Promotion Center in Los Angeles (ITPC LA) and the Indonesian Exports Education and Training Center (BBPPEI) in West Jakarta co-organized the matchmaking event.

“American importers welcomed the virtual business matchmaking [event], and several expressed interest in some of the products that Indonesian SMEs were promoting,” ITPC LA head Bayu Nugroho said in a statement on Thursday.

“The ITPC LA will facilitate further communication between the Indonesian SMEs and [their] importers to realize the export [deals],” he added.

Takari already distributes several well-known Indonesian brands, including Kara coconut products and Kopiko coffee-flavored candy.

Bayu said the virtual matchmaking event aimed to promote Indonesian F&B export products in the US while pushing the government’s export drive amid the current decline in trade.

Global trade is projected to fall 18.5 percent year-on-year (yoy) in the second quarter as an impact of  the pandemic, according to the World Trade Organization. The global trade body also forecast that world merchandise trade volumes would contract at best 13 percent and at worst 32 percent in 2020 amid the disruption brought about by the pandemic.

Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data showed that despite recording a slight recovery in June, Indonesian exports declined 5.49 percent yoy to US$76.41 billion in the first half of the year, while imports had slumped 14.28 percent yoy to $70.9 billion.

In the F&B sector, Indonesian exports to the US increased 29.69 percent yoy to $293.63 million in January-April, maintaining the sector’s upward trend over the past five years. Seafood, fruits, snack foods and sugar are Indonesia’s top F&B exports to the US.

Overall Indonesian-US trade totaled $27.1 billion in 2019.

“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has battered the world and the restrictions on person-to-person meetings, the Indonesian government has been forced to find a creative, alternative way to maintain its presence on the international stage, especially in the United States,” said Bayu.

The Trade Ministry plans to hold another virtual business matchmaking event on Friday for the furniture industry and on July 21 for the fashion industry.

The ministry held a similar event earlier in May to help brown sugar producer Gula Merah Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara to secure a Rp 529.8 million ($37,000) purchase agreement with Australia’s Bakso Rawit Ani Pty. Ltd, which specializes in meatball and sambal products.