Government to Allow Beef Imports, Is Minister Amran Safe?

Oleh Ade Wahyudi 17 Maret 2017

The government has finally allowed beef imports after failing to control beef prices in the run up to Eid al-Fitr early July.

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The government has finally allowed beef imports after failing to control beef prices in the run up to Eid al-Fitr early July. This failure has resulted in the Director General of Livestock being removed from his post. Speculation about Minister of Agriculture Amran Nasution’s future in the cabinet has also arisen.

To control prices during this year’s fasting month and Ed al-Fitr celebrations, the government imported 27,000 tons of frozen beef and deployed market operations. However, beef prices in several regions remained above IDR 100,000 per kilogram even after Eid, despite the President promising to reduce beef prices to below IDR 80,000.

The President’s failure to keep his promise has become the focus of public attention point. After the Eid holiday, Jokowi immediately summoned the Agriculture Minister. Amran went to the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on two consecutive days (12-13 July), sparking speculation that Amran would be sacked from the cabinet, even though the minister claimed the meetings were only about food and beef.

Amran is one of the people closest to the President in the cabinet. Amran used to be coordinator of the volunteer group Sahabat Rakyat KTI, which is said to have spearheaded the win for Widodo and Jusuf Kalla in the eastern part of Indonesia in the last presidential election.

Although both Amran and Vice President Jusuf Kalla both hail from South Sulawesi, relationships between the two have been rocky. Before becoming a minister, Amran was well-known as a successful entrepreneur in South Sulawesi.

He has consistently promoted the concept of a self-supporting nation and campaigned for policies prohibiting food imports. Many blame his policies for the sharp rise in the price of commodities such as shallots and beef, because domestic supply is not sufficient to meet the nation’s needs.

During meeting with media economic editors at the Presidential Palace on 17 July President Jokowi said food and the tax amnesty would be the government’s focus for the next three months. He again highlighted high price of beef, resulting in reduced public consumption.

National Statistics Agency (BPS) records show Indonesia’s consumption of beef is just 2.5 kg per capita, compared with 35 kg per capita in Malaysia and Singapore. “There it costs the equivalent of IDR 60,000 per kilogramme,” said Jokowi. “I’m not asking for beef to cost as little as that in Indonesia, just that it goes down to IDR 80,000 a kilogramme to begin with.

In the short term, the President will attempt to lower prices by allowing beef imports again because self-sufficiency in beef and lower prices will take nine years to achieve. Jokowi also highlighted some of the regulations that have been the reason behind high beef prices on the market.

In response to the President, Amran said he will amend three regulations to keep beef prices down. First, he will revise Law No. 41/ 2014 on the ban on beef imports. He will also revoke Regulation of the Agriculture Minister No. 58/ 2015 on offal imports, and Regulation of the Agriculture Minister No. 58/ 2015 on secondary cut beef imports.

He said these two regulations will be revoked immediately, despite the fact that they were introduced during Amran’s time as Agriculture Minister. At that time, Amran even said that the government would ban offal imports because offal is not food for human consumption overseas.

Is Amran’s position in danger? It looks like it is safe for the moment. At the forum, Jokowi even praised the minister’s move to lower food prices in the run up to Eid al-Fitr. “To prevent a (spike in the price of) shallots, the Agriculture Minister dug into his own pocket to provide trucks to transport onions here (to Jakarta),” said Jokowi.

The casualty this time was the Director General of Livestock and Animal Health at the Agriculture Ministry, Muladno Basar. A day after the forum at the Presidential Palace, the professor at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) was sacked from his post at the ministry.

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