The Jakarta Globe, Dian Ariffahmi, January 29, 2009
Despite ongoing complaints from consumers, importers, restaurant operators and hotels, the government agency in charge of import regulations said it would not ease tough new rules on labeling foods and beverages.
The Food and Drug Monitoring Agency, or BPOM, said on Wednesday that complaints by businesses that the regulations, which have created scarcities of a number of products since they were introduced late last year, are not going to change the agency’s directives.
Husniah Rubiana Thamrin, the BPOM chairwoman, said the rules are the rules — specifically regulation No. 56/2008 issued in December — and no exceptions would be made.
“We told them — the importers — to strictly follow the import rules so there would be no more problems,” Husniah said. “We just want to protect our people from food products that contain dangerous or forbidden ingredients and protect them from being cheated by bad food producers.”
The regulations, which call for strict labeling of imported food in Bahasa Indonesia and detailed sourcing information on ingredients, were issued in the wake of worries about the safety of foods imported from China, but some importers claim the rules are actually a back-door attempt to protect local producers from competition amid the downturn.
The rules have caused shortages of many imported products, including cheese, wine and ethnic foodstuffs. A number of foreign businessmen have called the restrictions unfair.
Last week, the chairman of the Overseas Korean Traders Association of Indonesia, Kim Woo Jae, said his members are finding it hard to get permits to import food products intended largely for the local Korean community.
Kim called the requirements “a little bit unrealistic” after a meeting with Trade Minister Mari Pangestu.
The labeling rules “waste time and money for producers and importers” and only raise prices for consumers, Kim said, claiming that the government has rejected applications from Korean importers without any explanation.
Husniah rebuffed such arguments, saying that she was only trying to protect the people, and that importers who followed the rules would get one-day service on their import permits.