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Spy fallout fuels Indo push to diversify beef import options

James Nason, 25/11/2013

Further signs have arisen over the weekend that Indonesia’s escalating fury over allegations Australian spies tried to tap the phones of the Indonesian president and his wife in 2009 could have longer term impacts for Australia’s large beef and cattle trade with the market.

Some of the more angry commentary from Indonesia has called for the country to immediately freeze its beef and cattle import trade with Australia.

However local trade sources point out that such an outcome would only hurt Indonesia at this point given its current heavy reliance upon imports as it attempts to relieve a serious beef supply shortage and bring prices down to more affordable levels for its people.

However the anti-Australian sentiment surrounding the issue has given renewed impetus to calls to calls for Indonesia to reduce its reliance for beef and cattle on Australia and to open its borders to imports from other countries, including Foot and Mouth Disease affected Brazil and India.

Indonesia’s trade minister Gita Wirjawan has stepped up calls for the Indonesian Parliament to revise Law No. 18/2009 on Husbandry and Animal Health to allow Indonesia to import live cattle and beef from FMD-free zones within FMD affected countries.

At present Indonesian law only permits the import of beef and cattle from countries that are entirely free of foot-and-mouth disease.

The minister said countries such as New Zealand, India, Brazil, Argentina and the US could accommodate Indonesia’s beef consumption needs.

"We have been limited because we can only import from Australia. We have to revise the regulation soon," the minister said, according to local news outlet Tempo.

In another development over the weekend, the head of Indonesian State-Owned-Enterprise Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia (RNI) said it has suspended plans to buy breeding properties in Australia due to ‘trust’ issues between the two neighbours.

“We decided to halt talks on cattle ranches in Australia temporarily until the Australian government fulfils what the Indonesian government insists they do,” RNI Chief Executive Ismed Hasan Putro told Reuters. “This is very important to build out mutual trust, respect and equality in the future.”

Putro said RNI had already started talks with a New Zealand firm as an alternative candidate.

He said that in September, RNI had sent a team to Australia to explore the possibility of investing around 350 billion rupiah ($29.91 million) in three or four existing cattle ranches, with the aim of importing 120,000 live animals a year.
The inflamed tensions have also caused Federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce to postpone a planned visit to Indonesia this week.

Thomas Sembiring, The head of the Indonesian Beef Importers Association, told Tempo over the weekend that Indonesia would risk draining its own herd and increasing already high local beef prices if it stopped importing beef from Australia.

Mr Sembiring told Tempo that stopping beef imports from Australia would result in a beef price increase within Indonesia, while importing beef and/or cattle from FMD affected countries would also put Indonesia’s own cattle herd at risk.


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