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Indonesia Steps Up Threats in Australia Row

  • Reuters

FILE - Indonesia's Minister of Trade Gita Wirjawan attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

FILE - Indonesia's Minister of Trade Gita Wirjawan attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Indonesia's diplomatic rift with Australia over phone bugging accusations threatened to widen on Tuesday after the trade minister said Southeast Asia's biggest economy was looking elsewhere for food imports.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the suspension of military and police cooperation last week over the politically sensitive issue of asylum seekers using Indonesian territory to sail to Australia and revelations of Australian intelligence services tapping the mobile phones of the president, his wife and several of his top advisors. The source for the reports was documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

“There are other places that I think can help us with our food security aspirations,” Gita Wirjawan told foreign journalists in the Indonesian capital. “We are looking at those possibilities.”

Indonesia is a major importer of Australian wheat, live cattle, beef and some raw sugar. Australia is Indonesia's 10th-largest export market.

Wirjawan, who has already begun his campaign for next July's presidential election, said he had asked parliament to look into regulations that limit imports from certain countries.

Currently, Indonesian law only allows cattle imports from Australia and New Zealand because of concerns over foot and mouth disease.

Asked if he was concerned about beef and cattle imports from other counties, Wirjawan replied that he knew, “Malaysia imports a lot of beef from India from zones that are safe from [foot and mouth disease] and other diseases.”

However, he added, the government “will certainly be mindful of the need to maintain stability in prices.”

Australia is Indonesia's main supplier of beef, surging prices of which became a major issue earlier this year by helping to drive up inflation.

The government was forced to relax import quotas to meet demand.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott wrote to Yudhoyono on the weekend regarding the spying row, but neither side has made public details of the letter.