Govt Denies Allegations of Trade Barriers

JAKARTA ~ The government denied allegations on Wednesday that it is imposing non-tariff trade barriers by restricting imports of major goods to five ports and requiring translations of imported food labels.

Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said Indonesia’s regulations were “consistent” with World Trade Organisation rules and were designed to facilitate legal imports and restrict smuggling.

“The regulations are intended to accelerate import activities, not erect barriers,” she said at a dialogue with representatives of foreign embassies and trade organizations.

She said ports designated for major imports “have sufficient infrastructure” to deal with the volume of imported goods.

The move to limit the number of entry ports for imports was designed “to create a better tracking system of products with potential health and safety hazards,” she said.

“Indonesia is such a big country we have difficulties managing entry of illegal imports,” she said.

But European diplomats at the meeting said Indonesia was seen as engaging in foul play in a bid to protect domestic industries from competition amid the global economic downturn and with elections due in April.

Since December, Indonesia has allowed only the ports of Belawan in Medan, Tanjung Priok in Jakarta, Tanjung Perak in East Java, Tanjung Mas in Central Java, and Makassar in South Sulawesi to receive imports of food, textiles, footwear, toys and electronic products.

Dumai in Sumatra has since been added to the list after officials threatened to close the port, but it can only take food imports.

The restrictions came as world commodity prices began falling sharply and commodity-driven countries such as Indonesia began trying to protect domestic industries from an influx of imported manufactured goods.

A British embassy official said the restrictions were “seen as a measure which obstructs trade by British exporters.”

Malaysian, Japanese and US embassy officials equated the restrictions to non-tariff barriers.

“We are concerned by the number of measures seen as limiting imports,” said an EU official at the meeting.

Food import associations said they were worried about the stringent requirements for labels to be translated into Indonesian.

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