Hopes are high within the live export community that agriculture minister Joe Ludwig’s visit to Mount Isa today will result an announcement that offers some certainty about the future of their industry.
The imposition of a blanket ban has plunged northern producers into deep financial turmoil in the midst of their annual marketing program, left thousands of cattle stranded for weeks in holding yards without a contingency plan to deal with them, and angered Indonesia by cutting off a major part of its food supply in the approach to Ramadan, its peak annual period of demand for meat.
The uncertainty surrounding the northern cattle industry is only likely to get worse after the current round of import permits expire today.
Australian cattle exporters are applying for new permits for the next quarter in preparation for what they hope will be an imminent decision by the Federal Government to lift its suspension order on the Indonesian trade.
However, until the Indonesian Government issues new import permits for the July to September quarter, any reprieve that the Federal Government offers from now on will be academic.
Having export permits is one thing, but having no import permits that allow access to the market at the other end is another.
Effectively the decision as to when Australia’s live export trade to Indonesia resumes no longer rests with Julia Gillard or Joe Ludwig, but with Indonesia’s minister of agriculture Suswono.
Mr Suswono is the man in charge of driving Indonesia’s push towards self-sufficiency in red meat production by 2014. Indonesia, offended by Australia’s actions to suddenly halt the cattle export trade without prior warning, is now likely to will use its newly enhanced bargaining position to drive further towards that goal.
There have been some media reports – not substantiated at Government level – that the Indonesian Government has told Joe Ludwig it now wants to lower the maximum weight restrictions on imported cattle from 350kg to 250kg.
That would allow for a greater proportion of the growing and value-adding process to occur within Indonesia.
Asked by Beef Central to confirm or rule out whether such a demand had been made, Senator Ludwig’s office only added further to the uncertainty by answering only that it will not discuss specific issues related to the trade.
Another source of uncertainty for the trade takes effect from next week when the Greens will hold the balance of the power in the Senate.
The Greens want all live exports to be banned immediately.
More than 200 people have registered for today’s forum which has been organised by AgForce. Given the distances involved that equates to a fair roll-up in Queensland’s far west and a sign of the anger that exists.
MLA chairman Don Heatley told producers at Eidsvold on Tuesday that the groundwork had been done to allow for a partial re-opening of the trade to closed systems immediately.
If the Federal Government is close to ending its role in the impasse, no signs of that were evident when Joe Ludwig met with angry producers in Darwin yesterday. Following the meetings Mr Ludwig stood firm on his line that the Government would not rush to lift the suspension until it was sure every Australian animal sent to the market will receive adequate welfare standards.
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