JAKARTA, July 17 (Reuters) - Indonesia will allow increased imports of live cattle from this month onwards, government officials said on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian nation aims to head off a potential shortage and stabilise domestic beef prices.
Details of the new imports, which could be a boost for Australian suppliers, will be announced on Thursday and will meet "whatever the market needs", agriculture and trade ministry officials said at a food security news conference in Jakarta.
"To increase supply we will import ready-to-slaughter cattle for whatever the market needs because this is an emergency situation," said Indonesian Agriculture Minister Suswono. "The beef will enter the market starting this month."
The Trade Ministry will decide which importers will be allowed to import the cattle, he added.
In a bid to promote its domestic beef market, Indonesia slashed its import quota for live cattle by over a third in 2012 and by another 30 percent for 2013. The beef import quota was cut by nearly two-thirds in 2012 and by six percent for 2013.
Total beef import quotas for 2013 were set at 32,000 tonnes, of which approximately 20 percent consisted of prime cuts. The live cattle import quota was set at 267,000 head of cattle.
Last month, Indonesia relaxed restrictions on some imports to contain domestic beef prices and prevent shortages during the Ramadan holy festival, when demand increases.
Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said last week Indonesia will face a beef shortage in the fourth quarter of this year and may need to issue extra imports quotas.
Indonesia's state food procurement body Bulog has already been issued with a permit to import 3,000 tonnes of beef, in what will be the first ever beef shipment by the agency.
"Although there has been extra beef supplied of 3,000 tonnes by Bulog, our calculation from the demand side shows that we still need additional beef supplies," Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa said on Wednesday after a meeting of ministry officials.
"We decided in the meeting to increase supply from import and we expect whatever the amount needed by market will be fulfilled," he said.
After global food prices spiked last year, Indonesia agreed to extend Bulog's role beyond rice in order to build bigger food stockpiles.
Indonesia has been struggling to meet various 2014 self-sufficiency targets for food staples and has already said its soybean and white sugar goals will not be met. (Reporting by Yayat Supriatna; writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Richard Pullin)