In an ironic twist during her campaign for the development of creative industries, Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu was met Sunday with protests during her visit to a center of creative industry in Cirebon, West Java.
Dozens of protesters claiming to be members of the Cirebon Rattan Craftsmen Society staged protests to demand the minister revoke a 2005 ministerial regulation on rattan export terms and conditions.
The protests forced Mari to cancel her scheduled visit to batik shop Galeri Batik EB Traditional Cirebon.
Rattan is one of the province's top creative businesses.
Badrudin, chairman of the society, claimed the regulation had encouraged raw rattan producers to export their products, thus resulting in a raw material shortage and the loss of 300,000 local jobs.
"We want to meet with Trade Minister Mari to show her that the Trade Ministry's regulation is harmful to the nation and rattan craftsmen," he said as quoted by Antara.
But Mari dismissed the shortage issue, saying raw rattan "does exist. Perhaps there are other problems they're facing."
Diah Maulida, the ministry's director general for international trade, said however a revision to the regulation was being drafted because "there are still many raw rattan suppliers selling their goods to traders who then export the raw rattan overseas".
Indonesian Rattan Furniture and Craft Association (AMKRI) chairman Hatta Sinatra previously said the country was running short of raw rattan since the implementation of the regulation, which stipulates quotas for exports of rattan at different grades.
"The raw rattan shortage has forced 144 rattan crafts enterprises to shut down since the implementation of the 2005 regulation," he told the press at the Trade Ministry after a meeting with Trade Ministry and Industry Ministry officials to discuss the matter.
AMKRI secretary-general Abdul Sobur said the closures of the 144 enterprises, all in Cirebon, had led to 60,000 to 70,000 workers being laid off.
Rattan craft enterprises in Cirebon make up 80 percent of the country's total rattan craft enterprises.
The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) recorded that finished rattan exports reached US$343 million in 2006 and $319 million in 2007.
To help settle the issue, Hatta said he expected the government to stop issuing export permits.
"There is no guarantee that we'll have enough feedstock of raw rattan when quotas are imposed," he said.
The 2005 regulation allows a maximum of 25,000 tons per year for export of raw rattan, a maximum of 16,000 tons per year for export of semi-finished rattan produced from sega and irit plants, and a maximum of 36,000 tons per year for export of semi-finished rattan produced from other plants.
Industry Ministry data shows the country produces 600,000 tons of raw rattan annually, with potential production of up to 622,000 tons, or around 80 percent of the world's total production of rattan.
Rattan-producing regions include Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua. Domestic demand for raw rattan reaches 300,000 tons per annum, according to Indonesian Furniture Entrepreneur Association (Asmindo) head Ambar Tjahyono.