Trade Minister Steven Ciobo has stressed there are no trade barriers to the export of palm oil from Indonesia to Australia and said the Anti-Dumping Commission was reviewing a decision that Indonesia had dumped A4 copy paper in Australia.
During a trip to Australia last month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo conveyed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull some of the key issues in a free trade deal being hammered out between the two countries.
“First is the removal of barriers to trade, tariffs and non-tariffs for Indonesian products such as Indonesia’s papers and palm oil,” President Jokowi, as he is popularly known, said in a joint media statement.
Mr Ciobo, who this week led a trade mission of 120 businesses to Indonesia, said there were “no barriers on palm oil”.
“There is one refinery in Australia and they make decisions about where they source their palm oil. It’s got nothing to do with government directives or anything like that.”
Mr Ciobo said Indonesia had expressed concern over a recent decision of the Anti-Dumping Commission that found the Australian paper industry had “suffered material injury” as a result of dumped exports of A4 copy paper from Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand and subsidised exports from China.
“It is the Commission’s view that the distortion of the domestic price of A4 copy paper is the direct result of the Government of Indonesia’s involvement within the forestry and pulp industries through its support for the development of timber plantations and its prohibition on the export of timber logs,” the Commission said in an initial report in December.
It proposed to recommend to the Parliamentary Secretary a dumping duty notice on A4 copy paper exported to Australia from all exporters in Brazil, China, Indonesia and Thailand.
“That’s a decision that is being reviewed and different factors were taken into account,” Mr Ciobo said.
He stressed the Anti-Dumping Commission was an independent agency and would make a decision “completely independent from government”.
“There is no tariff on paper products into Australia at the moment and so the Anti-Dumping Commission is currently working through a process and that will be concluded in the not too distant future.”
The Anti-Dumping Commission held a video conference with the Government of Indonesia on February 24.
General manager Paul Sexton said a final recommendation on the alleged dumping of A4 paper by the four countries would be made in a report due by March 10.
Meanwhile, Australia’s forest industries were alarmed that Indonesia was pushing to export more timber products.
“Australia already imports from Indonesia about $500 million worth of timber and paper products, against our exports to Indonesia of some $48 million in 2015,” said Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton.
“Australia’s forest industries operate to the world’s highest environmental standards and it beggars belief that we would seek to further increase timber and paper products coming into this country from arguably less sustainable operations.”
Indonesia has slipped from being Australia’s 12th-largest trading partner to only its 13th-largest in 2015-16.
Mr Turnbull said there was no question that the countries’ economic ties could be stronger and the “relationship has a lot further to go”.
“I know there are some 480 Australian businesses and investors already in Indonesia but – and this is the big but – we trade more with Singapore and Malaysia than we do with Indonesia,” he said in Jakarta on Tuesday.
An Austrade briefing for Australian exporters says Indonesia’s long-standing goal to reach self-sufficiency remains a top priority.
“Under President Joko Widodo, the country’s National Development Plan aims to boost the country’s farming capability, production and value-added activities, while lessening commodity imports,” it says.
However Mr Turnbull said President Jokowi really understood that “trade means jobs”.
“He is pushing back against the tide of populist protectionism that you see swirling around the world at the moment,” Mr Turnbull said.
“He knows that protectionism is not an answer, it’s a dead end. It’s not a ladder to get out of the low growth track, it’s a shovel to dig it a lot deeper.”
Mr Ciobo said his focus was on removing tariff and non-tariff measures that were a hindrance to trade and investment wherever he could.
“I work to secure the best possible deal I can for Australia, Indonesia will work to secure the best possible deal that they can for Indonesia,” he said.
Both countries have said they want the free trade deal – known as the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement – concluded this year.
Mr Ciobo said the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a “work in progress” after the withdrawal of the US and conceded Australia and India were doing a “stocktake” of a trade deal that was supposed to have been wrapped up by the end of 2015.