Exporters back in business

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

Seventy three days after a cattle ship in Port Hedland was ordered to stop loading, the first vessels will sail for Indonesia from WA since trade resumed.

International Livestock Exports (ILE) was due to start loading 2000 head of cattle at Wyndham yesterday while Wellard Rural Exports was planning to ship 7000 head, also from Wyndham, by week’s end.

“This will be our first shipment to Indonesia in two-and-a half months, so we are extremely pleased that the live cattle trade is slowly re-opening for the northern producers who rely on it for their livelihoods, ” Wellard managing director Steve Meerwald said.

Cattle from Wellard’s first shipment, aboard the MV Ocean Swagman, will be sent to two Wellard clients in Indonesia, while the ILE consignment is destined for one importer. Both companies have fore- shadowed more shipments.

Mr Meerwald said that the animal welfare and livestock traceability systems at their clients’ feedlots and nominated abattoirs had been independently audited.

The WA shipments follow resumption of the trade on Wednesday last week, 34 days after the ban was lifted.

Setting sail from Darwin, an Elders ship carrying 2327 heifers, 501 steers and 172 bulls was the first to depart.

Coincidentally, the company was in the process of loading in Port Hedland when the trade was brought to an abrupt halt.

The cattle which went from Darwin aboard the Sahiwai Express were due to arrive in Indonesia yesterday. It is the first fully traceable consignment to meet the new requirements in force in this live export market.

All cattle have been fitted with National Livestock Identification System ear tags which will be scanned at key points throughout the closed supply chain, including loading onto the ship, unloading in Indonesia, entering Elders’ Indonesian feedlot and its Indonesian slaughter facility.

Kimberley producer Leslie Thiele, of Thangoo station, who had cattle on the first Elders shipment to Indonesia, said things were returning to normal on the station.

But she said the industry would not recover overnight and there was still widespread concern about the trade’s long-term future.

Many were still angry with the Federal Government for placing the industry in the position it was now in.

“Financially there have been some very big impacts felt across this industry, but it has also been more about how people who work in the industry are feeling, ” Ms Thiele said.

“There is nothing the Government can do to repair this as far as providing assistance goes, but admitting what they did in banning the trade was wrong would go a long way to help. I don’t think the real fight (for the future of live exports) has started yet and when it does I have little confidence that the Government will look after us.”

Ms Thiele said she supported the Government’s decision to implement secure supply chains for Australian cattle to point of slaughter, however their actions in banning the trade to achieve this were what had damaged the industry.

Pastoralist and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam welcomed the news that the trade was now able to start making its way back, saying it would help take some of the pressure off pastoralists.

He said it was fortunate WA pastoralists in the Gascoyne and lower Pilbara had been able to access Middle Eastern markets, albeit in limited numbers, unlike those in the Northern Territory. But pastoralists in the Kimberley and parts of the Pilbara had borne the full brunt of the impacts.

The total cost of the two-month absence of live exports to Indonesia is unknown, but the latest ABARES statistics reveal live cattle exports to Indonesia during the past financial year are expected to drop to 445,000 head, down 38 per cent on 2009–2010.

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