Financial News

  • 18 February 2014, 13:47

'Shrimp Spies' Land Australia In Hot Water

The latest revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have landed Australia in hot water, after reports emerged it spied on Indonesia's prawn trade.

Indonesia's top diplomat has made barbed comments in the wake of claims that Australia eavesdropped on government discussions with its lawyers.

The talks were related to trade negotiations for shrimp and clove cigarette exports to the US.

"To suggest that the future of shrimp exports by Indonesia to the United States has an impact on Australian security is a little too much and begs some serious questions as to what it's all about," foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said.

"In our view, neighbours like Indonesia and Australia should be looking out for each other, not turning against each other."

Mr Natalegawa's remarks follow weekend revelations that Australia told the NSA of surveillance of talks between the Indonesian government and an unnamed American law firm working on its behalf about bilateral trade.

He made the prickly comments after veering off-subject at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jakarta and were seen as a direct response to remarks made by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott just hours beforehand.

Mr Abbott had said: "We don't collect intelligence for commercial purposes - we collect intelligence to save Australian lives, to save the lives of other people, to promote Australian values, to promote the universal values of humanity and to help our friends and neighbours, including Indonesia."

Mr Natalegawa said: ""But I must say I find it a bit mind-boggling, a bit difficult how I can reconcile discussions about shrimps and the impact on Australian security."

Relations between Australia and Indonesia have soured recently, over reports Australia's component of the 'Five Eyes' surveillance network with the NSA spied on the South East Asian country's leadership and families.

Australia's new maritime defence strategy of turning back asylum-seeking refugees on boats from Indonesia has also harmed relations.

Cabinet papers later released in Jakarta suggested it would be at least six months before diplomatic relations between the two neighbours warmed.

Mr Kerry was also asked about the US response to the surveillance claims and cited wide reforms to intelligence-gathering operations announced by the US leader last month.

"We take this issue very seriously which is why President Obama laid out a series of concrete and substantial reforms," Mr Kerry said.

"The President said in his speech on this subject, the United States does not collect intelligence to afford a competitive advantage for US companies or US commercial sectors."

The US has previously eavesdropped on foreign companies believed to be breaking sanctions against rogue states.

It has also used communications to initiate investigations into foreign firms believed to be in breach of its strict Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

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