19 Jul 2016

'Good momentum' on Indonesia beef dispute

11:33 am on 19 July 2016

After years of uncertainty for New Zealand's beef exporters, a trade dispute with Indonesia could be settled in the coming months.

Prime Minister John Key and Indonesian President Joko Widodo after their meeting in Jakarta on Monday.

Prime Minister John Key and Indonesian President Joko Widodo after their meeting in Jakarta on Monday. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

A World Trade Organisation panel is due to make a ruling on the long-running disagreement before the end of the year but Prime Minister John Key, who met with the Indonesian president last night, said the issue was likely to be put to rest before that.

Mr Key's meeting with Joko Widodo in Jakarta lasted about an hour, after which they made short statements to the media.

President Widodo said their meeting was very friendly and they were both very focused on increasing trade.

"Both parties, we agree to strengthen the breeding cattle co-operation, and also those related with beef," he said.

Since 2012 the two countries have been locked in an increasingly difficult dispute over beef exports from New Zealand.

The beef trade has dropped more than 80 percent since Indonesia started introducing quotas as it tried to boost its own domestic production of beef.

The disagreement is now the focus of a World Trade Organisation case taken by New Zealand and the United States in 2014.

Mr Key said he came away from his meeting with President Widodo feeling far more confident about the end of the dispute being within reach.

"I feel exceedingly confident that we are going to get there," he said.

"What 'there' actually looks like, well, we'll see in the fullness of time. But there's very good momentum on that issue."

Mr Key said the WTO ruling would obviously be issued anyway, but both parties would like to resolve the issue before that.

"As we said to the Indonesians, it's not unusual for good friends to take a particular issue off to a neutral referee. We did that with the Australians - we're the best of mates, but in the end that's where we took the apples case, and we felt strongly enough about the beef case to do the same."

The Indonesia president also had some of his own export requests.

"Indonesia encourages the export of tropical fruits, namely mango and snakefruit, to be immediately realised," Joko Widodo said after the meeting.

Mr Key said a minor testing issue with the Ministry of Primary Industries was all that was holding up those fruit imports and he expected that to be resolved shortly.

Prime Minister John Key and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Prime Minister John Key, at right, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Jakarta. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

West Papua

The prime minister discussed human rights in West Papua and New Zealand's opposition to the death penalty with the Indonesian leadership.

West Papua is tightly guarded by Indonesian military and police, with reports of killings and human rights abuses against the local population commonplace over the last few decades.

Mr Key said the Indonesian government clearly wanted to be more open and transparent about human rights and Papua.

President Widodo and his officials raised the issue of human rights and Papua before he did, he said.

"They did raise the point quite specifically about human rights and said, look, if there are specific issues with human rights, then they take up the issues, they investigate them and they make sure that they are not repeated.

"He seemed to be quite keen to have greater transparency so that there can be greater understanding."

Mr Key said he told the Indonesian leadership that New Zealand was firmly against the use of the death penalty.

After his meeting he was asked by reporters whether he raised any individual cases with President Widodo.

"From time to time there are really sensitive issues that I raise with other leaders, and I do that on the basis of making sure that I attempt to make the situation better, not worse if there is an individual involved.

"In my experience if I then go and discuss those issues, I then run the risk of making things worse not better."