The Australian embassy in Jakarta has raised the stakes in a dispute over $12 million of beef that has been stranded on an Indonesian wharf for almost four months.
It is understood ambassador Greg Moriarty wrote to the Indonesian trade and agriculture ministers via email in recent days in the hope of resolving the issue and alerting them to the potential impact on bilateral relations.
It was the strongest intervention in the row so far by the embassy which has been lobbying informally on behalf of Australian exporters for some time. About 120 containers of frozen beef from Australia, the US and New Zealand have been languishing at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta since mid-July after Indonesian authorities claimed there were anomalies with the import permits.
WA's longest serving beef exporter, Geoff Bull of Fremantle-based Allegro Pty Ltd, lashed out at Indonesian authorities. "All of these containers were exported to Indonesia under their valid import licences, which they have subsequently dishonoured," he said.
Mr Bull, who has been exporting meat for 40 years and has 23 containers stranded in Indonesia, said there was a ray of hope this week when exporters were granted permission to remove 63 of the containers for re-sale in other countries.
Indonesian authorities then ordered the exporters to pay demurrage and holding costs of up to $1.5 million before releasing the containers, which Mr Bull said they could not afford.
"The Indonesians now want us to pay full board and tariff in port charges for this whole situation which has been orchestrated by high-ranking figures with the intention of seizing this product, and making a big profit selling it on the market in meat-starved Jakarta," Mr Bull said.
Indonesia has slashed quotas for beef imports recently and prices have skyrocketed by up to 150 per cent because of an undersupply.
A source in Jakarta said low- quality cuts of beef sold for $10 to $15/kg in wet markets while the price of high-quality steaks in local supermarkets was $70 to $80/kg, making it one of the most expensive beef markets in the world.
Australia exported beef and live cattle worth $423 million to Indonesia in 2011-12 but that figure is expected to fall as the quota continues to tighten. Australia has already reached its live cattle quota of 283,000 head this year.
In an unrelated incident, 700 containers of fruit and vegetables have been in limbo at Tanjung Priok and at the port at Surabaya in East Java since late last month. This dispute, believed to involve 25 to 30 containers of mainly oranges from Australia, has been blamed on the introduction of new importation documents.