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Threat to plans for trade pact

The Press | Friday, 11 July 2008

Threat to plans for trade pact


Indonesia’s ban on New Zealand beef could threaten plans to sign a lucrative free-trade pact with South-east Asian nations this year, industry officials say.

Trade Minister Phil Goff said the ban announced this week was a threat to more than $90 million of exports annually and would be raised with the Indonesian Government.

"New Zealand is urgently seeking information from Indonesia about the reasons for this suspension," he said.

"The New Zealand embassy in Jakarta will make representations to the Government of Indonesia on this issue. We will seek to have trade restored while any issues are resolved."

Goff said New Zealand would take up the issue at bilateral Trade and Investment Framework talks with Indonesia in Wellington next week.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has cited the halal code, or strict religious certification rules for food, as the reason for its ban.

An official in Jakarta said the halal rules required suppliers to use labels that must be in English and Indonesian, printed directly on the packaging. New Zealand’s beef exporters were using stickers, he said.

The move caught the Government off guard, with some officials saying they suspected protectionism or foul play by competitors.

Meat and Wool New Zealand chairman Mike Petersen said the ban was "frustrating" and could complicate plans for a free-trade agreement (FTA) between New Zealand, Australia and the 10 members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

Indonesia is a founding member of that grouping.

"It is just frustrating. We are currently doing an agreement with Asean and this sort of thing doesn’t make it easy," he said.

"It certainly sounds more protectionist. It certainly doesn’t appear, from my reading of it, to have any justification.

"We’ve been raising a flag on Asean ... We are looking for transparent trade. We want to make sure the agreement goes in that direction but the feedback we are getting is that it is not likely to."

Meat Industry Association trade and economic strategy manager Dan Coup said the issues were sensitive and the industry was relying on the Government to swiftly negotiate an end to the ban.

Last month, Goff said 90 to 95 per cent of the FTA text had been agreed on and he hoped to have the deal signed this year. The remaining obstacles included market access issues, he said.

The next full round of talks is scheduled for July 21 to 26 in Singapore.

 source: Stuff