Bid to give cattle to Indonesia

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston has devised a radical plan for Australia to give Indonesia 10,000 breeding heifers a year in return for restoring the live cattle imports to previous high levels.

Mr Baston said it would cost about $5 million a year in cattle donations to lock in annual trade worth $250 million to Australian producers.

He returned to WA this week after visiting Indonesia and Singapore on his first overseas trip as minister convinced there was strong political support for Australian farmers in Jakarta.

"The facts are that to do business in Asia it has to be win-win for both countries," Mr Baston said. "If we don't support their cattle industry they will simply lock us out."

The Federal Government would buy the cattle from producers across the country through Austrade and pay for delivery through local exporters.

The move would allow Indonesia to build up its cattle industry and in return it would lift import quotas to about 500,000 head a year.

Australia was exporting more than 500,000 head a year to Indonesia before the Federal Government's snap ban in 2011 over animal welfare concerns.

Queensland producers battling drought and falling prices recently floated the idea of donating cattle to Indonesia to restore goodwill.

Indonesia appealed for 25,000 slaughter-ready cattle from Australian this month because of a beef shortage created by strict import quotas introduced as part of a drive towards self-sufficiency.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said Mr Baston's plan had merit and could dovetail into Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's pledge of $60 million to bolster Indonesia's domestic beef industry through the Australia-Indonesia Red Meat Forum.

"We have to rebuild the trade with Indonesia one way or the other," Mr Park said.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam said he had doubts about the plan but would support it if exports returned to pre-ban levels.

Mr Baston - who visited two Indonesian feedlots which had WA cattle and had talks with Indonesian Agriculture Minister Suswono - said he would meet his Federal counterpart after the election to push for the introduction of the scheme.

"We don't want to see Australia miss out on a booming demand for food in Asia over this next century," he said.

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