JAKARTA: Australia’s trade minister called on Monday for Indonesia to set an annual quota for cattle imports to bring more certainty for Australian exporters and ease tensions between the neighbors on the issue.
Indonesia is the biggest market for Australia’s lucrative live export trade, which employs thousands of people.
But the issue has often been a flashpoint, most recently when Jakarta unexpectedly slashed imports of Australian cattle in the third quarter of this year by 80 percent.
During a one-day visit to Jakarta, Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said setting an annual quota for cattle imports would be a “more stable arrangement,” instead of deciding on the figure each quarter, as Indonesia does now.
“We can make sure we’ve got the supply when it’s wanted here in Indonesia,” Robb told reporters, ahead of talks with his Indonesian counterpart Tom Lembong.
He said such an arrangement would only require setting a “base level” of cattle for the year, and Indonesia could later increase the quota if needed.
Indonesia insisted earlier this year its decision to slash imports was aimed at achieving self-sufficiency in beef supplies. But it sparked concerns that tensions caused by Jakarta’s execution of two Australian drug smugglers in April was affecting trade ties.
However, beef prices soared and butchers went on strike following the quota cut, prompting Jakarta to swiftly issue permits to import tens of thousands more cattle.
Relations between the neighbors have historically been stormy but hit a new low following the executions, with Canberra taking the unprecedented step of recalling its ambassador from Jakarta.
However, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insisted this month that ties between the neighbors were back in “very good shape.”
Robb’s visit came a week after Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott in a swift internal party coup to become Australian prime minister. Turnbull made major changes to the cabinet but Robb retained his post.