By DAN WHEAT
The Indonesian government plans to close its main port next week to imports of fresh foreign fruits and vegetables, and 21 West Coast members of the Congress are urging U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to do all he can to stop it.
The protectionist move to close the port of Jakarta would cost Pacific Northwest tree fruit producers, mostly Washington apple growers, about $57 million in exports, California table grape producers about $38.5 million in exports and California citrus growers about $5.5 million, according to a letter signed by the members of Congress.
The group is led by Reps. Doc Hastings and David Reichert, Washington Republicans, and includes Republicans and Democrats from Washington, Oregon and California.
Indonesia's plans violate its World Trade Organization obligations and threaten U.S. market access, the letter states.
"As the harvest season begins, our growers need certainty that this important market will remain open," Hastings said in a news release.
Indonesia is usually the fourth or fifth largest importer of Washington apples, at 2.75 million boxes in 2010, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.
Indonesia imported 34,000 boxes of Northwest pears and 3,300 boxes of cherries.
So far this year, Indonesia is 17 percent behind last year in U.S. apple imports due to crop and fruit size and the reluctance of some shippers to do business there because of the risk and uncertainty of Indonesia's policies, Powers said.
India is taking more U.S. fruit, mainly Red Delicious apples also favored in Indonesia, he said.
Indonesia issued new regulations last December that were to close Jakarta to foreign fruits and vegetables on March 19, Powers said. The date was extended to June 19 after lobbying by the U.S.
Indonesia cited food safety and pest concerns but the real reason for the closure seems to be protectionism for its own commodities, Powers said.
Other produce exporters also are protesting, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and China, he said.
The U.S. is trying to use Indonesia's recognition of U.S. food safety systems as a way around the closure, he said.
The U.S. has raised the issue in three WTO committees, he said. The U.S. needs to consider legal action through the organization, he said.
Kirk has worked on the issue but the main problem is a lack of response from Indonesia, Powers said.
"The only response we get is through their local press," he said.
Jakarta handles 90 percent of fruits and vegetables imported from the U.S. Closure of Jakarta would still allow fruit imports through four other ports but only one of them is on the main island and requires trucking 500 miles on primitive roads that makes large volumes of fruit impossible to move, Power said.
Beside closing the port, another regulation on import registration and permits poses a problem, he said.