Sat, 06 Mar 1999

Importers have bone to pick over cheap beef remark

JAKARTA (JP): Meat importers questioned on Friday State Minister of Food and Horticulture A.M. Saefuddin's statement on import offers for cheap Australian beef.

The chairwoman of the Association of Indonesian Meat Importers (Aspidi), Frieda N. Nalapraya, said the comment that several Australian companies offered to sell beef to Indonesia at Rp 10,500 (US$1.2) per kilogram was confusing and hurt their business.

"It is impossible to import good quality beef at Rp 10,500 per kilogram," she said during a news conference. "So we want to know what kind of meat is this. Even soup bones are priced higher than that."

Good quality beef sells here at Rp 15,000 per kilogram at wholesale and about Rp 20,000 per kilogram in the marketplace.

Many Indonesian importers have canceled their import plans due to the cheap beef reports, Frieda claimed, and Australian exporters were left confused.

The report has also discouraged Indonesians from buying locally produced beef because it was priced higher than Rp 10,500 per kilogram, she said.

"We have asked Australian importers about the controversial cheap beef report and they said they never heard of such an offer. They also said they never heard that anyone could sell meat at that price."

Accounting for about 80 percent of Indonesia's imported beef, Australian beef has become a contentious issue in the past several months due to soaring meat prices on the domestic market, mainly due to the collapse of the rupiah against the U.S. dollar.

The government's proposal to switch to relatively cheaper Indian buffalo meat provoked more controversy. Many local cattle growers feared the Indian meat could bring dangerous cattle diseases back into the country and affect local cattle populations.

The government countered that the public's opposition was fomented by Australian meat exporters and their local partners to keep Indonesian purchases.

Last month, the government announced cancellation of the Indian plan after an Indonesian fact-finding team determined that fatal bovine diseases remained in parts of the subcontinent. Saefuddin then announced the Australian Rp 10,500 per kilogram offer, a price inclusive of cost, insurance and freight.

Frieda denied soaring domestic meat prices were due to the existence of a cartel.

"No, no there is no cartel. We do not set prices and Australian exporters do not, either. The government has made us the scapegoat for its failure to control beef prices in the local market."

She blamed distributors for sharp price hikes.

"For example, we sell forequarter meat, which is used for the meatball, sausage and burger industry at Rp 15,000 per kilogram. However, its price at the consumer level reached almost Rp 30,000 per kilogram," she said.

Frieda said meat importers focused on importing beef from Australia and New Zealand because they were recommended by the agriculture ministry. (gis)