"In principle, we will sign the MoU for rice procurement as quickly as possible with not only Cambodia but also Laos, Vietnam and other countries," he said after the opening of the 44th ASEAN economic ministerial meeting by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen here on Monday.
The minister explained that the Indonesian government took this decision in order to strengthen food resilience and ensure security.
Gita noted that the negotiations for procurement of rice had been conducted over a long period by state logistics agency Bulog.
Cambodia has been pushing for the signing of an MoU as soon as possible. Earlier, Hun Sen stated that Indonesia could purchase rice from Cambodia, which had a rice production surplus of 100,000 tonnes. He also invited Indonesian investors to invest in post-harvest business such as rice hulling.
In response, Gita said: "I wish to sign the MoU soon and will not wait until November 2012 when the ASEAN Summit is held."
Meanwhile, Indonesian ambassador to Cambodia Soehardjono Sastromihardjo stated that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was scheduled to visit Cambodia a day before the ASEAN Summit on November 16-18.
Indonesian businessmen in Cambodia hailed the government`s decision to sign the MoU on rice procurement with Cambodia.
PT Galuh Prabu Trijaya`s director for business development, Mohamad Helmi, said the cooperation agreement would help Indonesian businessmen in Cambodia expand their businesses "under a legal umbrella".
Operating in Cambodia since 2005, the company has assisted local farmers by helping them plant crops as well as by supplying them with fertilizers from Indonesia. It controls more than 1.2 million hectares of rice fields.
Mohamad noted that Cambodian farmers produced only 2 tonnes of rice per hectare and harvested twice a year.
"But with better technology and fertilizers, they can produce up to 7 tonnes a hectare and harvest three times a year," he added.
"Our company has taken more than 300 farmers from Indonesia to help the local farmers in Komping Thom and Kompong Cham, among other places in Cambodia," Mohamad noted.
He said the rice from Khythay Corp cooperative group was usually sold to Thailand and other countries. "If Bulog buys our production, it would be better as it belongs to Indonesian businessmen who use Cambodian land for the production," Mohamad explained.
"It is just like the production of palm oil in Indonesia by Malaysian businessmen," he stated.
Another businessman, Rudy Halim, from PT Padi Tonle also expressed the need of legal support for Indonesian businessmen in Cambodia. "It must never happen that our investment suffers because of the lack of government protection," he said.
Rudy also praised the Indonesian government's decision to sign the rice procurement agreement with Cambodia.(*)