Indonesia label law snags U.S.
Southeast Asian nation a major growth market for West Coast fruit
By DAN WHEAT
New import policies in Indonesia are all but shutting that market to U.S. apples, table grapes, frozen french fries and citrus.
The policies, which went into effect Sept. 28, require product labeling of cartons in the Indonesian language. They also require third-party verification of the labeling and of a long checklist of paperwork requirements, said Mark Powers, vice president of Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, Wash.
"This raises logistical issues. We're seeking, through the U.S. government, to get these things eliminated or significantly modified so that hopefully they're not cumbersome," Power said.
It could take months to resolve and will negatively impact Washington apple sales, he said.
Fortunately for the Washington apple industry, this year's large crop has been met with greater than normal domestic demand because of light crops in the Midwest, East and Canada.
But Indonesia is of great concern long term because it has become an important growth market of Washington apples in recent years.
Indonesia imports about $57 million worth of Pacific Northwest tree fruit annually with the vast bulk of that being 2.5 million boxes of Washington apples, mostly Red Delicious, Powers said.
California exports some $38.5 million worth of table grapes to Indonesia annually and $5.5 million worth of citrus.
"Indonesia is one of our major markets and this is the height of our shipping season, so this (is) very significant," said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission in Fresno.
Indonesia imported about $12 million worth of frozen french fries and frozen processed potatoes in 2011, mostly from Washington with some from Idaho and Oregon, said Matt Harris, trade director for the Washington State Potato Commission in Moses Lake.
The market is at risk and is important even though it is small compared with Japan at $215 million worth of product, China at $65 million, Canada at $55 million and South Korea at $36 million, Harris said.
"We are monitoring the situation," he said.
Nave and Powers said they have been working on the issue with the USDA, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia since spring, when Indonesia first announced closure of the port of Jakarta to fresh fruits and vegetables. The United States, Canada and Australia won exemptions based on the quality of their food safety programs, Powers said.
The U.S. industries involved have received "tremendous help" from the U.S. government, Nave said.
Indonesia is not singling out the U.S. but wants to be self sufficient in food and is protecting its own products, not just agricultural ones, against Chinese imports, Powers said.
"We are caught up in that," he said. "These are horticultural product regulations not specifically targeted to the U.S. but all the world."