LIVE cattle exporters are facing a renewed setback as Indonesia refuses to issue more import permits for the end of this year.
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Hopes are fading that Australia's biggest live cattle customer will issue permits for the last quarter of 2012, potentially stranding between 50,000 and 100,000 head of cattle according to some estimates.
Exporters, who also have money tied up in the chartering costs of vessels, are also facing potential losses in the tens of thousands of dollars. One contact put the amount at between US$15,000 and US$30,000 a day
Ashley James, manager of Elders' North Australian Cattle Company, said exporters were now in a tense waiting game to see if Indonesia would end the uncertainty.
"The best information that we have is that as of October no more permits will be issued," he said.
"What it means for us is that our third quarter permits will be filled by mid October and we won't be expecting any more permits to be issued until January next year for 2013."
Mr James said the prospect of boats lying idle for more than two months had produced a mad scramble for new customers to take up the stranded numbers.
"Unless some exporters can find a ready market for this feeder cattle it means they won't be going anywhere," he said.
"For us we'll have ships tied up with nowhere to go. We're chasing customers in Malaysia and the Philippines but I can tell you they're not jumping up and down for cattle through November and December either. It is a very serious situation."
Figures from Livecorp show that Australia exported more than 80,000 head of cattle to Indonesia in November and December last year, at a time when the industry was still reeling from the ban on shipments imposed by the Federal Labor Government over animal cruelty allegation in Indonesian abattoirs.
Then just before Christmas, Indonesia announced it would cut back the amount of cattle it wanted to take from Australia in 2012, issuing only 283,000 permits, about half the number issued the year before.
The grim picture is no better in Western Australia, with figures from the State showing WA's cattle industry is still struggling, despite the efforts of exporters to find alternative markets.
So far this year, fewer than 120,000 animals have been exported from WA ports, less than half the number sold in 2011.
Mr James said it was likely live exporters and the businesses that rely on the trade would face another bleak Christmas, with the subdued outlook possibly lasting well into early next year.
"Even if we get those import permits in January most of the cattle that are ready now won't have a chance of getting onto a boat because they'll be over the 350 kg weight limit," he said.
Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association executive director Luke Bowen, who returned from a fortnight trade trip to Indonesia last week, said he believed Indonesia's self-sufficiency drive was behind the permit issue halt.
"Supply of cattle by local Indonesian producers is just in overdrive at the moment," he said.
"They are getting about $3 Australian per kilo live weight which is way better than what our guys would be getting at just under $2. As a result they are selling anything they can get their hands on, which doesn't really spell good news for their self-sufficiency goals long term.
"I toured abattoirs and feedlots throughout Sumatra and Java and in one feedlot we went to they had about 60 per cent local cattle in the the yard, whereas it was normally about 10 percent. Other feedlots were only half full."
Mr Bowen said that on the processing front, the Indonesians in concert with Australian exporters operating within the Federal Government's new ESCAS guidelines to safeguard animal welfare had made rapid progress.
"I couldn't believe just how far they have come," he said. "About 85 per cent of the cattle are now being stunned and the Indonesian operators I spoke to agree that the upgrades they've put in place are improving efficiency and throughput.
"It's a real credit to the exporters and the Indonesians who have been able to work together and make this happen. Everyone on the tour felt very reassured that things are moving in the right direction."
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