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Indonesia may cut cattle imports

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Indonesia’s trade minister says his country is considering cutting Australian beef imports in the wake of revelations of Australian spying. 

Gita Wirjawan says he last week asked parliament to start looking at whether legislation can be adjusted to allow Indonesia to import beef from other countries instead of Australia.

Indonesia has provisions that restrict imports from countries where diseases like foot and mouth exist, but Mr Wirjawan says he confident that the country can get around that because Malaysia imports from disease free parts of India.

Mr Wirjawan says the move to look at suppliers that could replace Australian beef – which could include India and South America – is partly or mostly because of the spying scandal.

He says the relationship with Australia can be mended but the spying issue is an unfortunate issue that has damaged trust.

Mr Wirjawan made the comments while speaking to foreign journalists in Jakarta ahead of next week’s World Trade Organisation meeting in Bali.

State-owned Indonesian firm RNI halted talks with the Australian cattle industry last week because of the revelations.

RNI’s chief executive Ismed Hasan Putro told Reuters that the company had frozen talks with Australian cattle stations until the Government apologises to Indonesia.

“This is very important to build our mutual trust, respect and equality in the future,” he said.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce last week postponed a planned trip to Indonesia in light of the ongoing spying scandal.

The diplomatic rift erupted following revelations Australian spies tapped president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone and those of his inner circle, including his wife’s, in 2009

An angry Mr Yudhoyono last week said all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia was on hold until he received a proper explanation.

Mr Abbott, who says one of his priorities as Prime Minister is to maintain a strong relationship with Indonesia, wrote a letter to Mr Yudhoyono about the affair.

Earlier today former Army chief Peter Leahy hand-delivered the letter, in a move the Government labelled a sign of respect.

Indonesia is a major importer of Australian wheat, live cattle and beef, while Australia is Indonesia’s 10th largest export market.