Wed, 07 Jun 2023

Russia sanctions show Visa and Mastercard could become a "problem," President Joko Widodo warned

The leader of the world's most populous Muslim-majority country has said that Indonesia must reduce its dependence on foreign payment systems to negate the risk of a potentially disastrous economic fallout should the country ever come into crosshairs of Western sanctions.

Addressing a business forum in Jakarta this week, Widodo argued that Indonesia must shield itself from geopolitical disruptions, citing a sanction attack on Russia's financial sector by the US, the EU and their allies over the conflict in Ukraine.

"Be very careful. We must remember the sanctions imposed by the US on Russia. Visa and Mastercard could be a problem," Widodo said Wednesday at a gathering that promoted the use of Indonesian-made products and services.

Last year, Indonesia rolled out a Domestic Government Credit Card (KKP) program to facilitate transactions between the central and regional governments, and the president urged the public sector to blaze a trail in adopting this and domestic systems, stressing that eventually "everyone should be able to use" domestically issued bank cards so that "we can be independent."

"If we use our own platforms, and everybody is using them, from ministries and local administrations to municipal governments, then we can be more secure," Widodo said, according to the Jakarta Post.

Indonesia's domestic interbank system GPN currently supports only local debit cards and requires some adjustments to properly serve credit cards and international transactions, Indonesian Credit Card Association (AKKI) executive director, Steve Marta, told CNBC Indonesia on Saturday.

Indonesia is a major economy, ranked world's seventh with $4.37 trillion GDP based on purchasing power parity, between Russia and Brazil.

Moscow rolled out its own national card system Mir soon after the US first targeted the country with sanctions in 2014, and prepared the internal National Payment Card System (NSPK) to smoothly take over all Visa and Mastercard transactions should the companies attempt to pull the plug.

Last year, as Moscow was hit by further sanctions in response to its military operation in Ukraine, international payment systems indeed halted their services, but locally-issued Western-branded cards continued to work within the country via the NSPK. While these cards can no longer be used internationally, their expiration dates were extended indefinitely to give users enough time to comfortably migrate to the Mir system. 

Russia also has its own financial messaging system, SPFS, which ensures the transactions between banks both inside and outside the country, and acts as a substitute for SWIFT that blocked many sanctioned Russian banks.

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