PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced the establishment of an Indonesia-Australia Red Meat and Cattle Forum during the annual Indonesia-Australia Leaders’ Meeting in Jakarta on Friday.
The Prime Minister also announced a $60 million funding package, to be provided over 10 years, for increasing agricultural co-operation and boosting investment in the red meat agribusiness sector in Indonesia.
The Forum will recommend activities to build the meat supply chain and encourage greater Australian investment in Indonesia.
The Coalition meanwhile promised to adopt a ‘no surprises’ policy with Indonesia, if elected to government, to increase certainty for the embattled live cattle export trade, according to Shadow Trade Minister Julie Bishop.
Ms Bishop was in Darwin on Thursday where she campaigned with NT Liberal MP Natasha Griggs, while taking feedback on the Coalition’s Northern Australia policy and its proposed economic opportunities for Territorians.
She also challenged Prime Minister Rudd to restore trade credibility with Indonesia.
Ms Bishop said Mr Rudd should be reassuring Indonesian President Yudhoyono that Australia can “once more be regarded as a trusted and reliable supplier of goods”.
She said the Labor Government’s ban on live cattle exports in June 2011 had damaged Australia’s standing in Indonesia, affected food security in Indonesia and “caused widespread damage in the cattle industry in Australia, particularly here in the NT”.
Ms Bishop said the Coalition was also working with industry to find ways of reassuring trust with the Indonesians if beef import quotas are increased.
Indonesia slashed its beef quota by about 50 per cent in retaliation to the ban, which currently sits at 80,000 tonnes, or about 238,000 head of cattle and 32,000tonnes of boxed beef.
Before his departure for Jakarta on Thursday Mr Rudd said he held “long conversations” with the Indonesian President about live cattle exports during his last official visit to Indonesia as Foreign Minister.
Ahead of that visit in July 2011, Ms Bishop criticised then Prime Minister Julia Gillard over her failure to send Mr Rudd to Jakarta for urgent diplomatic talks to help restore and repair the damaged trade.
Mr Rudd arrived for talks two days after the ban was lifted, where delayed cattle import quotas were announced and mutual commitment to improve animal welfare standards.
Two years on from that visit, Mr Rudd now returns as Prime Minister with new Agriculture and Trade Ministers, following his front bench reshuffle this week.
Mr Rudd said Indonesia “legitimately expects long-term domestic food security and their protein needs are met by the importation of beef”.
He also said Indonesia had a policy to move towards long-term beef self-sufficiency.
“Our job is to work with them to deal with their long-term development of their own herd as well as to ensure that all of our beef producers in North Queensland and northern Australia more generally, Northern Territory and the Kimberley and elsewhere, get the best access that's possible to the Indonesian beef market, given what's happened in the past,” he said.
“I'm also mindful very much of the animal welfare challenges that we have seen and I'm also mindful of what we are now doing through the Australian aid program to assist with animal welfare challenges in Indonesia, doing it co-operatively.
“I am sure this will be part and parcel of our discussion.
“We have obviously interests, the Indonesians have interests, I am sure we will work our way through it and get the right balance.”
Mr Rudd also appealed to the Australian business community to increase relationships with Indonesia.
“This is a huge emerging economy,” he said.
“It will become one of the top ten economies in the world.
“In the next decade, it will pass Australia in terms of the overall size of the Indonesian economy.
“It's next door to us.
“A quarter of a billion people and with a rising middle class, and with that, per capita beef consumption will go from 2 kilograms per year to 17 or 18 kilograms per year over time.
“Frankly, this is a very big opportunity.
“We have got to manage the problems and reopen the doors to the future.”