Indonesian cattle claims crash

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Indonesia's claim that it has been developing a self-sufficient beef industry by restricting imports of Australian cattle is in tatters.

Figures leaked from the country's bureau of statistics show cattle and buffalo numbers fell by 3.4 million head in the past two years.

The provisional census results across 33 provinces show a drop of almost 20 per cent to 13.2 million head from the last census in 2011.

Sources in the Australian cattle export industry said they had always suspected the 2011 figures were grossly inflated to help justify the import quota system which has caused beef prices to skyrocket in Indonesia.

Indonesia's Tempo magazine published the leaked figures in this month's edition and reported that in many regions breeding heifers were being slaughtered for meat.

Agriculture Minister Suswono claimed last month that Indonesia was on target to reach its self-sufficiency target in 2014. "We hope it will be achieved next year," he said.

The comments came as Mr Suswono met WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston to discuss trade.

Mr Baston, who also visited two Indonesian feedlots stocked with WA cattle, is urging Australia to give Jakarta 10,000 breeding heifers a year in return for restoring live cattle import quotas to historically high levels.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pledged $60 million to bolster Indonesia's domestic beef industry through the Australia-Indonesia Red Meat Forum.

The Indonesian beef industry has been dogged by allegations of corruption over the quota system.

Thousands of Australian breeding heifers have been stuck in quarantine at feedlots in Indonesia for about 12 months in a dispute believed to be part of a political row involving Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan and Mr Suswono.

And WA-based meat exporter Allegro lost more than a $1 million last year after containers of frozen beef sat on a Jakarta wharf for five months in a dispute over the validity of import permits.

Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission investigators questioned Mr Suswono earlier this year after a senior party colleague was arrested over allegations of bribery.

The beef shortage will hit home again today as Indonesians prepare for an important feast to mark the end of Ramadan.

Jakarta appealed for 25,000 extra slaughter-ready cattle from Australia to ease the shortage but less than half that number have arrived over the past three weeks.

Australia's import quota for this year was set at 267,000 head, well down on highs of more than 500,000.

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