JAKARTA - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday threw his support behind Jakarta's plans to invest in Australian cattle farms to help end a trade dispute that has devastated his country's cattle industry and boosted beef prices in Indonesia.
Abbott's comments came on the final day of an official visit to Indonesia, his first overseas trip as prime minister, in which he was keen to focus on strengthening trade and business ties and move on from tension over refugee boats.
Indonesia has said it could buy up to 1 million hectares of Australian farmland for cattle grazing, to improve future supplies and keep prices stable under a long-term plan to be self-sufficient.
Beef trade has been a contentious issue in the past. In 2011 Australian live cattle exports to Indonesia were briefly suspended after Australian television broadcast images of cruelty in an Indonesian abattoir.
"If some Indonesian joint ventures in cattle are an important part of getting this trade re-started, well, please bring them on, bring them on," Abbott said.
Foreign investment in Australian farms is a sensitive issue for Abbott, who has already promised greater scrutiny of foreign investment in agriculture and who governs in partnership with the rural-based National Party, which has a more protectionist view of foreign investment in the sector.
Tighter scrutiny aimed to show Australians how investments were good for the country, Abbott said in his first comments on the issue.
"This is not designed to lock up our country," he said."This is designed to ensure that the Australian people understand that the foreign investment we have and the foreign investment we welcome really is in our own best interests.