Indonesia looks at alternatives to Oz food imports as tensions gather

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Trouble was building between the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, last week
Trouble was building between the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, last week

Related tags: Susilo bambang yudhoyono

What began as outrage over phone bugging accusations has now escalated to the point that Indonesia revealed it was turning away from Australian food imports.

The country is a major importer of Australian wheat, live cattle, beef and some raw sugar, while Australia is Indonesia's 10th-largest export market.

Last week, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered a suspension to all police and military co-operation with its southern neighbour after Australia was unable to provide sufficient explanation for the bugging of Yughoyono’s phone, which whistleblower Edward Snowden had revealed in documents passed to media services.

Other sources

"There are other places that I think can help us with our food security aspirations​," Indonesia’s trade minister, Gita Wirjawan, told foreign journalists in Jakarta today. "We are looking at those possibilities​.”

Wirjawan said he had asked parliament to look into regulations that limit imports from certain countries. At the same time, Indonesian law only allows cattle imports from Australia and New Zealand because of concerns over foot and mouth disease.

Consequently, Australia is Indonesia's main supplier of beef—itself a touchy subject earlier this year after surging beef prices became a major issue by helping drive up inflation.

In light of Indonesia’s concerns over the disease, Wirjawan revealed that he had been looking at where its neighbours have been sourcing their beef.

"I know Malaysia imports a lot of beef from India from zones that are safe from [foot and mouth disease] and other diseases​.” He also suggested Latin America as another source.

But the government "will certainly be mindful of the need to maintain stability in prices​", he added, in a nod to how his government was forced to relax import quotas to meet demand.

Roll up your sleeves

Australian agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce, who last week postponed a planned trip to Indonesia in light of the scandal, is aware of the latest reports.

In a statement, Joyce said he respected Indonesia's right to choose where it imports its food from, but he planned to continue to promote Australia as a reliable exporter of live cattle and food.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the onus was on Australia to repair the situation.

"It's not a time to just simply say, 'there's no problem here - nothing to look at​'," he said.

"It's a time to roll up your sleeves, it's a time to recognise to put yourself in the other person's position and come to a sensible landing point​."

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