RI eyeing Latin America beef imports

Australia’s dominance of the Indonesian imported beef market may be challenged soon by imported beef from Latin American countries and Spain, as the government pursues efforts to lower stubbornly high prices.

The Latin American countries are Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, while Spain is known for its high-quality beef. Australia has so far been the main source for Indonesia’s beef imports and this month’s importation of 10,000 tons buffalo meat from a disease-free zone in India marks the first-ever shipment of such meat.

“We will soon open the opportunity this year; G-to-G [government-to-government support] will be sought,” said newly inaugurated Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita on Wednesday, adding his belief that there would be an equilibrium price.

Enggartiasto, along with other ministers and officials went to the State Palace on Wednesday to update President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo about the efforts to curb rising food prices as well as to improve supply and distribution. It is hoped to bring the price down to Rp 80,000 per kilogram (US$6.1) from current range of Rp 100,000 to Rp 130,000 per kg, still at the peak level during Ramadhan last month.

Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman revealed that his ministry had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with one of the Latin American countries to import more than 10,000 tons of beef. The country remains unidentified, reportedly it has never previously exported beef to Indonesia.

Recently, the Agriculture Ministry was involved in intense discussions on a plan to import beef cattle from Spain and Latin American countries such as Mexico.

“[Spain] does not use hormone stimulants on their cows, so it has become one of Europe’s best producers of beef. The price is more or less equal to that of Australia, but with better quality,” said State Logistics Agency (Bulog) president director Djarot Kusumayakti.

Major local livestock breeder and meat processor Santosa Agrindo (Santori) welcomed the government’s initiative to start importing from Latin America as it would offer alternatives for the company, which gets its supply of heifers solely from Australia.

The company, a subsidiary of publicly listed poultry firm Japfa Comfeed, is attracted by the idea of importing calves from Latin America, particularly Mexico as one of the countries with foot-and-mouth disease-free zones, protocols for which have been agreed with Indonesia.

“The quality of cattle from Latin America won’t be an issue as long as they still have matching genetics of the Bos Indicus type for tropical conditions, just like Brahman cows in Mexico,” head of breeding Dayan Antoni said.

Gustavo Westmann, the economic, commercial and cultural attache at the Brazilian Embassy in Jakarta, said in parallel with a consultation initiated by his country against Indonesia’s non-tariff barriers on beef imports at the World Trade Organization (WTO), Brazil will also present its sanitary certificate to Indonesia to try and sell its meat here.

“I think the beef price is really high. In Brazil it’s half the price […] In Brazil beef is sold for Rp 60,000 to Rp 65,000 per kg,” he told The Jakarta Post in June.

Experts criticized the government’s move to diversify beef import sources as merely “emergency action” that would not provide sustainable nationwide self-sufficiency in food.

“The government should start thinking of developing domestic beef production, which is the main issue that hasn’t been touched,” said Rochadi Tawaf, a cattle expert from Padjadjaran University.

Esther Samboh contributed to the story

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