Indonesia’s diplomatic rift with Australia over telephone bugging accusations threatened to widen yesterday after the Indonesian Minister of Trade Gita Wirjawan said Southeast Asia’s biggest economy was looking elsewhere for food imports.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week ordered the suspension of military and police cooperation over the politically sensitive issue of asylum seekers using Indonesian territory to sail to Australia.
“There are other places that I think can help us with our food security aspirations,” Wirjawan told foreign journalists in the Indonesian capital.
“We are looking at those possibilities,” he added.
The diplomatic bust-up followed reports last week quoting documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that Australia’s intelligence services had tried to eavesdrop on the telephone conversations of Yudhoyono, his wife and other top officials.
Indonesia is a major importer of Australian wheat, live cattle, beef and some raw sugar. Australia is Indonesia’s 10th-largest export market.
Wirjawan, who has already begun his campaign for next year’s presidential election, said he had asked parliament to look into regulations that limit imports from certain countries.
Currently, Indonesian law only allows cattle imports from Australia and New Zealand because of concerns over foot and mouth disease.
Asked if he was concerned about beef and cattle imports from other counties, he said: “I know Malaysia imports a lot of beef from India from zones that are safe from [foot and mouth disease] and other diseases.”
However, the government “will certainly be mindful of the need to maintain stability in prices,” he added.
Australia is Indonesia’s main supplier of beef, surging prices of which became a major issue earlier this year by helping drive up inflation.
The government was forced to relax import quotas to meet demand.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott wrote to Yudhoyono over the weekend over the spying row, but neither side has made public details of the letter.