Indonesia’s Trade Ministry, food agency clash over garlic imports

The association insists that the businesses have met all the perquisites for the permits, yet the ministry has not issued them.

Vincent Fabian Thomas

Vincent Fabian Thomas

The Jakarta Post


Women peel garlic imported from China in Tanah Sareal, Bogor, West Java, in November 2020.(JP/P.J.Leo)

May 31, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – The National Food Agency (Bapanas) has urged the Trade Ministry to issue long-awaited import permits for garlic, as stalled purchases and shipments of the commodity have curbed stocks and sent prices up.

I Gusti Ketut Astawa, undersecretary for food availability and stabilization at Bapanas, projected on Monday that the country’s demand for garlic would be 669,354 tonnes this year, some 600,000 of which would be met through imports.

Almost five months into the year, however, import permits issued so far total only 176,000 tonnes, and 73 percent of that combined quota has already been realized, according to Bapanas.

“The Trade Ministry must speed up import permit [issuance] to ensure supply in June and beyond,” Ketut said, as quoted by Kompas.

Importers organized under the Indonesian Onion and Root Vegetable Entrepreneurs (Pusbarindo) trade association said on May 25 that they had been applying for permits since February but that most of the requests had stalled with the ministry.

“Between 250,000 and 300,000 tonnes of import permits should have been issued [by now],” Pusbarindo chairman Reinhart Antonius Batubara told the audience in a discussion in Jakarta, Kompas reported.

The association insists that the businesses have met all the perquisites for the permits, yet the ministry has not issued them.

Indonesia typically imports between 90 and 95 percent of its garlic supply. According to Statistics Indonesia (BPS), 99 percent of the country’s garlic imports came from China in 2022, or some 613,804 tonnes, similar to previous years.

With stocks running low, prices have shot up. According to Trade Ministry data, garlic was selling for Rp 37,600 (US$2.51) per kilogram on May 30, having risen 35 percent so far this year.

Garlic and other food ingredients were among the largest contributors to monthly inflation in April, according to BPS.

Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan played down concerns over import permits, saying the country should reduce its reliance on imported goods, including garlic.

“We want exports. Let’s not get used to importing goods. We should reduce any imports that can hamper our economy,” Zulkifli told reporters, as quoted by Tempo.

Aryo Dharma Pala, researcher at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef), said on May 25 that garlic imports were unavoidable as domestic production met just 5 percent of nationwide demand.

Aryo urged the ministry to be more open regarding import permit issuance, arguing that the lack of transparency in the system could cause problems, including by creating opportunities for deliberate wrongdoing.

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