JAKARTA - One might find the notion of a huge pork market in Indonesia laughable - Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to think so as he chuckled over his agriculture minister's suggestion to improve pork sales in the country with the world's largest Muslim population.
A video of the Russian president scoffing at Minister Alexander Tkachyov's presentation on hiking pork exports to Indonesia went viral last month all over the globe. The president was so amused that he had to cover his face with his hands.
Despite Putin's apparent disbelief, his officials are taking it seriously and have taken concrete steps to grab a piece of the Indonesian market of over 260 million people, 12.8 per cent of whom are non-Muslims.
"Delegates from the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor) participated in the Indo Livestock event in Surabaya, East Java, last April to introduce more of our many meat products, including pork," Maria Matsuri, a senior expert with the Russia Trade Representation office in Indonesia said to The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of major food expo SIAL Interfood in the Jakarta International Expo on Wednesday (Nov 22).
"Our parties submitted documents in August to get import approval (for meat and pork) from the Indonesian Agriculture Ministry to no avail until now," she added.
Russia's intention to export pork has come up amid an expected pork production boom. The National Union for Pork Producers projects production to jump by 20 per cent on an annual basis to 4.2 million tons by the year's end, the highest production in the last 25 years amid increasing new investment.
Besides Russia, other pig farming countries, like Germany, Slovakia and Belgium, are also looking to export pork to the Muslim-majority country, said Thomas Darmawan, chairman of the food and beverage division under the Indonesia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).
"Stagnant pork production in the country is due to minimal support from the government in the last 15 years. This has made Indonesia a potential market for European countries to sell their pork here," he said.
Thomas' statement is in line with the fact that swine meat import has been rising in the past five years. Last year alone, the volume doubled to 1,221 tons with limited sources in the United States and the Netherlands, Trademap data shows.
While data on national pork demand is not readily available, Kadin estimates there are more than 600 pigs slaughtered every day to meet the demand in Greater Jakarta alone, home to more than 20 million people.
"Indonesia is open to pork trade; we're an open country. However, the Russians were too late in submitting the documents in August. Should we grant them the permit, they would have to pay PNBP (non-tax revenue charged in the export plan) twice this year and next year," Syamsul Maarif, the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary and public health director, told the Post.
"So it's better for them to register next January. Also, we plan to make the process online by then so they can do it faster," he added.