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All News Updates & Public Comment => Live Export News Updates => : Export News Tasmania June 04, 2012, 06:16:28 PM

: Exporter predicts downward spiral for Indonesian live trade
: Export News Tasmania June 04, 2012, 06:16:28 PM
The country's most experienced cattle exporter says Australia's live trade with Indonesia will continue to decline.

Animal welfare conditions in Indonesia may well have improved but it's come at a high price for a once booming live export industry.

Companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure they meet the new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), but many are worried all profitability is quickly being sucked away.

A culmination of Australia's live export suspension and the Indonesian Government's self sufficiency plan to cut import permits, has led an industry stalwart to believe the 'glory days' are over.

Sid Parker from South East Asian Livestock Services in Darwin has seen the boom and bust of the 20-year-old live trade.

He recalls in 1995, listening to a speech of the then Indonesian President Suharto, declaring the country needed to import at least 500,000 cattle each year to meet protein demands.

Those days appear to be over.

Sid Parker says relationships have been strained this past year, and although Indonesia will never be self-sufficient, the country will find beef elsewhere.

"I don't think I'm angry about it. I think it was just a mistake and somebody reacted without thinking the whole thing through and that's what happened.

"You can't go back and change it but the Indonesians were certainly upset about it."

Implementing the ESCAS, complete with electronic ear tag readers and trained slaughtermen, in such a short time frame was no easy feat.

All export companies must have signed agreements with their import buyers, as well as ensuring there are agreements between the buyer and the abattoirs that give a committment to animal handling standards.

It was, perhaps, not surprising that an investigation by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) recently found some non-compliance issues in video filmed in abattoirs since the trade resumed under the new regulations.

The North Australian Cattle Company, a subsidiary of Elders, was one of the export companies to be reported.

Manager Ashley James says there have been some teething problems and further development of slaughtermen has been the key to resolving the problems.

"These issues have been fixed with extra training by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and our own animal welfare officer - supply chain manager.

"We've also put animal welfare officers on the floor. A lot of it was around timing of death which we've fixed and is no longer a problem."

But it's the on-going cost of ESCAS which has export companies digging deep.

All animals have to be wearing a National Livestock Identification System ear tag when leaving Australia, and must be scanned at least six times throughout the supply chain.

Ashley James says it hasn't been cheap to purchase and run the equipment that's required to support such regulation.

"For just the NLIS database, it costs $15,000 to $40,000 depending on how many panels you want to buy.

"Abattoirs with wand scanners cost $4,000 to $5,000 a piece. Then you have to build your software and educate staff on how it works."

According to Sid Parker from SEALS, the cost of obtaining an export permit for a ship load of cattle through the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service has risen by 300 per cent in the last year.

While the industry assures the public that it's spending time and money on improving animal welfare conditions, it is worried about further negative exposure.

Ashley James from NACC says he's confident the new standards can be maintained for the long term.

"Our customers are doing the best that they can and at the moment, that's complying with OIE standards."

As far as Sid Parker is concerned, exporters need to be looking elsewhere to find business because Indonesia is no longer interested in developing or continuing the trade.

"I think the trade will continue to reduce. I think the Indonesians are trying to get out of the live cattle and they can get meat from elsewhere in the world.

"I don't believe it's sustainable to only go to Indonesia but most of the other Australian exporters have found other markets.

Carl Curtain
Friday, 1 June  2012 (