INDONESIA appears set to bring forward an immediate increase in cattle import quotas from Australia by about 50,000 head for the second quarter, to meet increased beef demand for the Ramadan religious festival in July, industry speculation says.
As reported by Fairfax Agricultural Media earlier this week, industry speculation was suggesting cattle import quotas could benefit from a potential policy shift within the Indonesian government.
Reports said Indonesian agriculture minister Suswono, who has been linked to a corruption investigation concerning beef importation, could be sacked from the ministry triggering a change in attitude towards beef imports.
Suswono has been behind a policy drive to promote Indonesian beef self sufficiency that’s seen cattle import quotas from Australia dramatically slashed by about 50 per cent over the past two years.
The huge quota reductions have also been linked to the Indonesian government’s reaction to the Australian government’s snap suspension of the live cattle trade in June 2011.
The lack of beef cattle supply, well ahead of any realistic production self-sufficiency, has also sparked a 50pc spike in Indonesian beef prices over the past 18 months, fuelling another layer of political tension.
But reports today suggest Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan is set to announce an increase of 48,000 tonnes early next week, to help ease domestic beef price tensions in particular around Ramadan.
Indonesia’s original 2013 quota of 80,000t - announced late last year - equates to about 238,000 head of cattle and 32,000t of boxed beef exported from Australia.
Industry sources now say Indonesian trade officials held talks with cattle importers in Indonesia this week and look like increasing quotas by 50,000 head in the current quarter.
Import quotas may also be raised by about 50,000 head in each of the third and fourth quarters, along with a dramatic increase in boxed and frozen beef exports.
Northern Territory Cattlemens’ Association executive director Luke Bowen said the additional 48,000t beef imports for the remainder of 2013 would come from a combination of live cattle exports and boxed and frozen beef.
Mr Bowen said he was making moves to contact Indonesian industry sources to try and clarify some of the speculation and potential volume of beef imports from Australia.
Industry sources have declined to comment on any domestic politics in Indonesia in relation to beef import quotas - but have pointed to the basic supply and demand factors alone as reasons to increase import numbers as soon as possible.
But Mr Bowen said the most recent speculation seemed to be providing the most encouraging signs of change since import quotas were dramatically slashed shortly after the June 2011 suspension.
In 2009, Indonesia’s cattle import numbers hit a historic high of 750,000, followed by 520,000 in 2010.
But the export numbers plunged significantly in 2011 after the federal government’s snap suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia over concerns with animal welfare and slaughter conditions.
Indonesia’s permits numbers dropped to 283,000 in 2012 down from 410,000 the year before.
Mr Bowen said Australia’s beef cattle exporting capacity remained strong and could immediately supply 600,000 head into the Indonesian market per year, once the political machinations changed.
South East Asian Livestock Services (SEALS) manager Dean Ryan said he was hearing strong rumours that Indonesia was getting set to increase beef import quotas from Australia, but nothing official has been announced.
Mr Ryan cautioned against responding to pure speculation saying he’d heard previous talk about quota increases that had failed to eventuate into anything formal.
But he said “cracks are starting to appear and hopefully we will see some changes soon”.
Speaking from San Francisco, Cattle Council of Australia president Andrew Ogilvie also declined to comment, saying he was only hearing speculation at this stage.
Mr Ogilvie said there’s been “a lot of rumours flying around” about Indonesia’s political situation.
He said if the quota increase became formal, industry would be made aware of any changes next week.
“If it did turn out to be true the increases quotas would provide welcome relief to a lot of people in the industry,” he said.
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council CEO Alison Penfold said the sooner mere speculation moved to an announcement on beef import quotas in Indonesia, the sooner exporters can review shipping schedules and make arrangements to fill boats with the additional quota available.
She said further streamlining of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) - implemented by the Australian government in response to the issues underpinning the live exports ban - would also help “quickly realise any additional quota and more specifically reduce excess cost and bureaucratic requirements, for example thousands of pages of audit reports”.
“This will benefit the entire trade on both sides,” she said. More to come.