Cattle traders plead for end to spying rift
The boss of Australia's biggest live cattle exporter is urging a swift diplomatic resolution to the growing rift between the Abbott government and Indonesia over the phonetapping of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife.
Elders chief executive Malcolm Jackman is hoping the rhetoric between Jakarta and Canberra doesn't boil over to action on live exports, warning it would have devastating consequences for the Australian industry and Indonesian beef consumers.
As the fallout from the spying scandal continues, Indonesia has threatened to freeze its live cattle trade with Australia, which is worth $174 million a year.
Mr Jackman said if that happened it would not only steer up the price of beef in Indonesia but also take Australian cattle producers and exporters back to the days of the Gillard government's live export ban in 2011.
"Nobody wants to see that, that's for sure," Mr Jackman said.
"My observation is on both sides, Australian and Indonesian, there has been a bit of rhetoric, but on the other hand ... everybody wants to keep this as a diplomatic issue. As a businessman leading a company that has a large presence in Indonesia I endorse those sentiments.
"There'd be no winners from a trade point of view in terms of any of this rhetoric turning into action."
Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan asked the parliament late last week to immediately revise animal health laws to allow the import of live cattle from countries other than Australia, in particular Brazil.
Shipping a beast from Darwin to Jakarta costs $100 to $150 on top of the price of the animal. The cost rises to about $800 if the animal is shipped from Brazil.
"That would have a dramatic impact on the price of beef in Indonesia and particularly Jakarta, which is not going to be great for the Indonesian population, particularly with an election coming up," Mr Jackman said. "I suspect that would have some influence on it as well."
Elders' live export division is already under pressure, with a major Indonesian customer considering going elsewhere. Victoria's Supreme Court heard earlier this month that Elders had been "hampered by the sudden and unexpected loss of its entire [live cattle] trading team", which defected to rival Ruralco in October.
Elders is suing four of the seven rebel traders and has asked the court to stop them poaching clients and return confidential information to protect the company, which posted a $505 million loss for the year to September, from "irreparable harm".
Mr Jackman was one of 20 business leaders who visited Indonesia with Prime Minister Tony Abbott two months ago. He said he was saddened that the goodwill shared between Australia and Indonesia on the trip, which led to an increase in import quotas for slaughtered cattle, had eroded.
Mr Jackman said Elders and other Australian exporters and producers were looking to new export markets in Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and China.
"But Indonesia is by far the most natural market. Proximity, and it's been going for a long period of time. People know how to make it work. Indonesians and Australians from a trade point of view are very keen to get on with it."