Exporters are facing a race against time to load cattle in Darwin and ship them to the Indonesian ports of Jakarta and Lampung before first quarter permits expire on March 31.
Indonesia issued permits for the import of 160,000 cattle for the first quarter and about 30,000 have yet to be loaded and shipped before those permits expire.
A combination of several factors has resulted in exporters sailing close to the wind in terms of meeting permit deadlines for this quarter.
The massive increase in export orders from Indonesia has added to the pressure involved in sourcing sufficient volumes of cattle, while resurgent demand from other markets has added to shipping bottlenecks and increased the difficulty of coordinating shipping capacity across the various routes currently being serviced.
Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association chief executive officer Ben Hindle wrote on behalf of the industry earlier this week to NT chief minister Adam Giles and the Darwin Port Corporation (DPC) chief executive officer Terry O’Connor requesting their assistance in prioritising access to the port for live export vessels.
Mr Hindle told Beef Central this morning that the DPC had gone “over and above” in its efforts to help northern livestock industry, for which it was grateful.
As of the start of this week eight livestock vessels were still scheduled to load in the Port of Darwin. The first of those is loading now and the last is now booked to load on the 25th.
Mr Hindle said the assistance had meant most of the remaining vessels will now deliver prior to March 31, but meeting the deadline could still be a touch and go proposition for some.
A similar issue occurred at the end of last year when port congestion issues in Darwin meant the MV Ghena was loaded too late to deliver cattle to Indonesia before the December 31 deadline for 2013 fourth-quarter permits. However on that occasion the Indonesian Government agreed to an exporter request for a special dispensation to allow the ship to be unloaded upon arrival in Jakarta in early January.
Anticipating similar problems for this quarter, the Australian Livestock Exporters Council wrote to the Indonesian Government earlier this month requesting further dispensations for vessels carrying Q1 2014 cattle to be unloaded after the March 31 deadline if required. As of today the council has yet to hear a response to that request from the Indonesian Government.
With Indonesia indicating it will issue permits for the import of 278,000 cattle next quarter, exporters will face an even bigger logistical challenge to ship that volume by the June 30 deadline, particularly as required cattle numbers become harder to find across northern Australia.
However, the onus is on them to avoid a repeat of the current end-of-quarter rush, because further requests to have other regular port users such as container ships and car carriers step aside so live export ships to ‘jump the queue’ at the last minute are unlikely to be as well-received by the NT Government and the DPC in another three months time.