HOSTILITIES in Indonesia's phoney war with Australia over live cattle exports have again escalated in the country's Top End, this time over a consignment of breeding females.
A spokesman for Elders said a shipment of Brahman cows had been suspended while its subsidiary export company the North Australian Cattle Co sought clarification from Indonesian authorities over their demands to verify the pedigree of the animals.
The spokesman said the Indonesian request was "not normal", but played down initial reports 1500 cattle had been left stranded.
"The number is about 500 head," the spokesman said.
"When NACC became aware of the request they decided to postpone the shipment until the matter could be clarified. The cattle were already contained in a quarantine facility in Darwin and that is where they have remained while this issue is resolved."
A statement from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said the Australian government had not been notified of any changes to Indonesia's requirements for information about the pedigree of imported breeder cattle.
"The Australian government does not certify the pedigree of breeder cattle for the Indonesian market. This is a commercial matter," the statement said.
"The government is consulting with Australian livestock exporters on the issue and will make appropriate representations to the Indonesian government if necessary."
The statement also said that Indonesia was seeking to increase domestic production of beef, and imports of breeding cattle were an integral part of this strategy, adding that the trade in breeding cattle and feeder/slaughter cattle was mutually beneficial for Indonesia and Australia.
The federal Opposition said the latest friction in the trade smacked of retaliatory action by Indonesia against Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig's decision to ban live exports of feeder cattle to Indonesia over animal cruelty allegations last June.
After slashing import quotas last December and flagging more cuts this year, Indonesia was deliberately causing difficulties for Australian exporters by requesting extra certification about the pedigree of each breeder cow, according to the Opposition.
Shadow Agriculture Minister John Cobb said northern cattle producers were bearing the brunt of Labor's decision to bow to pressure from animal activists and "uninformed public opinion" when he suspended the live cattle export trade for a month over footage aired on ABC TV showing animal mistreatment in Indonesian abattoirs.
Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association executive director Luke Bowen said he believed the instability in the trade was being caused by internal problems within Indonesia.
"I'm not quite sure what those problems are and we're still asking the questions, but it's a pretty long bow to suggest this is in retaliation to what occurred last year," he said.
"I think there is definitely some other funny business going on within Indonesia itself."
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