Weighty issues add to cattle trade woes

Rebecca Turner and Nick ButterlyCountryman

Australia’s cattle export permits granted by Indonesia expire today, adding to industry concerns that Australian cattle will be left out in the cold.

Even if the ban was lifted immediately, which industry representatives and the State Government concede appears increasingly unlikely, Australian cattle cannot be sent to Indonesia unless the Indonesian Government renews the import permits.

Last week, The Australian reported that Indonesian authorities had threatened to shut Australian cattle exporters out of the market unless Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig complied with a list of demands, including a reduced minimum weight of cattle allowed into the country.

In The West Australian this week, Elders also raised concerns that when trade resumed, Indonesia could reduce the weight limit on imported cattle from 350kg a head to 250kg.

Pastoralists were also worried about when and how new permits may be issued.

WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman, who returned from Indonesia last week, said he was unaware of any specific requests regarding changes to maximum live weights of cattle if the trade was re-instated, however, he expected it to be part of any re-deliberation of the trade.

He added that when Australia banned the trade, it had effectively stopped 25 per cent of Indonesia’s beef imports.

“By Australia banning the trade it has dealt itself out of the game, ” Mr Redman said.

After his visit, Mr Redman said he saw an opportunity for the Australian live export industry to help improve animal welfare conditions in Indonesian slaughterhouses.

He has written to the Indonesian Minister for Agriculture outlining his support for the trade as well as offering technical assistance on improving animal welfare systems in abattoirs.

Mr Redman said no decision had been made on how the northern cattle industry would be best supported should the ban drag on.

He said any State Government support would need to be consistent.

He was not considering any subsidies on transporting cattle to southern abattoirs and saleyards at this stage.

Building a northern abattoir was not being fast-tracked either, with Mr Redman saying the Beef Council was responsible for this project.

In Perth last week, Premier Colin Barnett met Prime Minister Julia Gillard before the State Labor Party conference to discuss the resumption of the trade.

Mr Barnett asked that the ban be lifted immediately.

But while Ms Gillard said she agreed that the trade needed to be resumed, she also said the appropriate arrangements for animal welfare needed to be in place.

On Monday, negotiations with Indonesia remained deadlocked with Jakarta refusing to let a team of Australian vets appointed by Canberra into slaughterhouses.

Senator Ludwig said the vets his department sent to Indonesia almost two weeks ago to inspect Australian-supplied killing pens had been blocked from local abattoirs.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd is expected to visit Indonesia on July 8.

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