Sat, 11 Sep 1999

Cargo agents fear spread of protests

JAKARTA (JP): Local air and sea cargo agents expressed concern on Friday over a possible escalation in Australia's boycott of Indonesian cargo.

The deputy chairman of the Indonesian Air Cargo Agents Club (ICAC), Mufti Syafei, said a prolonged boycott would constrict the air and sea freight forwarding businesses.

He appealed for the government to listen to international pressure to restore peace in troubled East Timor to prevent the boycott from worsening.

"It's up to General Wiranto (minister of defense and security/military commander), if he could guarantee stability in the territory... Australia will certainly review its actions," he told The Jakarta Post.

He said that the flow of cargo from major Indonesian ports to Australia was currently not affected, but he appealed for an effort to calm the protests because of the potential losses.

Separately, the secretary-general of the Indonesian Forwarders Association (Gafeksi), Santoso Soeparman, said that business was running as usual.

"But if local businesspeople cut their exports due to fears of the goods being blocked, it will definitely hurt our activities," he told the Post.

Australian trade unions stepped up their protests against Indonesia on Friday due to its failure to stop the violence in the territory.

Workers have refused to handle shipments bound to or from Indonesia in a show of sympathy with the East Timorese, who voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in an Aug. 30 ballot. An orgy of violence followed the announcement of the results on Sept. 4, with thousands of people forced to flee amid attacks by pro-Indonesia militias.

Mufti and Santoso believed the protests were also triggered by a threatened boycott made by the Indonesian Importers Association (GINSI) last week.

"We are quite surprised that the Australian (labor unions) responded so quickly to the earlier talk of a boycott by our importers," Mufti said.

GINSI said last week it would boycott Australian goods if the Australian government continued meddling in Indonesian political affairs, particularly in the handling of East Timor.

Separately, Director General of Foreign Trade Djoko Moeljono said on Friday that the government had yet to take a stance on the Australian Council of Trade Unions' call for a blanket boycott of Indonesian goods.

He said the ministry would discuss the matter with all concerned parties, including GINSI and the Indonesian Association of Exporters (GPEI), before making any move.

Indonesia's exports of non-oil commodities to Australia was US$865.95 million in 1998, up 20.05 percent from 1997. Exports in the first four months this year, however, dropped 7.57 percent to $232.08 million from $251.07 million in the same period last year.

Indonesia's imports of non-oil products from Australia fell 24.49 percent to $1.65 billion last year compared to the 1997 total.

Imports in the first four months of 1999 were $411.73 million, down 27.49 percent from the same period last year. (cst)