Australian live cattle exports cut sharply by Indonesia

Stockmen watch a cattle auction, Australia Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Live cattle exporters have been taken by surprise by Indonesia's decision

Australia's cattle industry has taken a sudden hit after Indonesia slashed its live cattle imports from Australia.

Indonesia - Australia's biggest live cattle market - has told the market it would issue 50,000 import permits between July and September.

That compares with an expected 200,000 permits for that quarter and is well below the usual third quarter figure.

The Australian Livestock Exporters Council said the decision was both a surprise and a disappointment.

However, Council Chief Executive Officer Alison Penfold rejected local media suggestions it was linked to the uneasy relationship between the two countries.

"Absolutely not. I know there have been some suggestions in the media today and I am disappointed [some people] have decided to play politics," Ms Penfold told the BBC.

The import cut comes amid political tensions between the two countries over asylum seekers departing Indonesia by boat for Australia.

  • Australia is the world's leading supplier of live cattle, sheep and goats
  • In 2014, Indonesia took 56% of Australia's cattle exports
  • Indonesia only imports live cattle from Australia
  • Live exports contribute an average of A$1bn ($740m, £478m) in earnings annually to Australia

Also, earlier this year, Indonesia ignored pleas from the Australian government to grant clemency to two Australian convicted drug traffickers on death row.

In recent years, the live cattle industry has been rocked by a series of scandals about poor treatment of the animals in some of the countries Australia exports to.

In 2011, Australia halted live cattle exports to Indonesia after shocking footage of cruelty at some Indonesian abattoirs was broadcast in Australia.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Australia has been exporting live cattle to Indonesia for 30 years

A spokesman for Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told local media the Australian Government respected Indonesia's right to make the decision but was "disappointed" by the cut.

However, the Opposition's Agriculture Spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the decision was a reflection of the tense relationship between the two countries.

"Of course the Abbott Government's relationship with Indonesia or the deterioration of it won't be helping at all," Mr Fitzgibbon told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Ms Penfold said over the past five years import permits for the third quarter had fluctuated between 62,000 and 184,000, averaging out at about 105,000 head of cattle.

"[This quarter] will present challenges for us but we have a constructive relationship with Indonesia and we want to support its food security needs," she said.

She said it was too early to say whether exporters would find other markets for their cattle.

She said she did not think any lobbing by the Australian government would change matters.

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