The government on Wednesday denied allegations that it is imposing non-tariff trade barriers by restricting imports of major goods to five ports and requiring translations of imported food labels.
Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said Indonesia’s regulations were “consistent” with World Trade Organization rules and were designed to ensure legal imports and restrict smuggling.
“The regulations are intended to accelerate import activities, not erect barriers,” she said at a meeting with representatives of foreign embassies and trade groups.
She said ports designated for major imports “have sufficient infrastructure” to deal with the volume of imported goods.
The move to limit the number of entry ports for imports was designed “to create a better tracking system of products with potential health and safety hazards,” she said. “Indonesia is such a big country. We have trouble managing illegal imports.”
But European diplomats at the meeting said that with elections due in April, Indonesia was trying to protect domestic industries from competition amid the global economic downturn.
Since December, the government has allowed only the ports of Belawan in North Sumatra Province, Tanjung Priok in Jakarta, Tanjung Perak in East Java Province, Tanjung Mas in Central Java Province and Makassar in South Sulawesi Province to receive imports of food, textiles, footwear, toys and electronic goods.
The port of Dumai in Riau Province was also added to the list after officials threatened to close it, but it can only take food imports. The rules came as world commodity prices began falling and commodity-driven nations such as Indonesia began trying to protect domestic industries from an influx of imported goods.
A British embassy official said the restrictions were “seen as a measure which obstructs trade by British exporters.” Malaysian, Japanese and US embassy officials equated the restrictions to non-tariff barriers. “We are concerned by the number of measures seen as limiting imports,” said an EU official.
Foreign firms have also complained about a regulation requiring food products to have the Indonesian language on labels.
John A. Heffern, deputy chief of mission to the US Embassy, said the government, especially the trade ministry, should explain the new import rules.
“We’re asking the trade minister to explain in detail.”