NT's envoy heads to Indonesia for beef talks

THE Northern Territory's newly-minted Primary Industries Minister Willem Westra van Holthe will leave for Indonesia on Sunday for a five-day mission to engage political and business leaders in the region.

Sworn into his cabinet post on Tuesday on the back of the Country Liberals' election win on August 25, Mr Westra van Holthe has signalled the resurrection of the NT live export trade to Indonesia will be the top priority of his term.

"My visit to Indonesia is about rebuilding bridges between Australia and Indonesia in the wake of the Labor government's live cattle export ban," he said.

"I want to send a very clear message to Indonesia that we're open for business and that our election on August 25 signalled the beginning of a new era of co-operation between the Territory and Indonesian governments."

Mr Westra van Holthe will be joined on the tour by representatives from Australian Rural Exports, the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association and the Australian Live Exporters Council.

The tour will take in several feedlots, wet markets and abattoirs recently accredited under the federal government's new Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) guidelines to safeguard animal welfare.

A spokesman for Mr Westra van Holthe said the trip was a "fact-finding tour" and would prepare the ground for NT Chief Minister Terry Mills to hold more substantial talks with Indonesian officials in Jakarta later in the year.

Mr Westra van Holthe's trip comes as the live export trade continues to feel the strain of last year's four-week suspension of shipments to Indonesia over animal welfare concerns.

While federal Labor's snap decision to halt the trade caused last year's upheaval, further pressure is now being applied by Australia's arch beef export competitor Brazil, as the South American country looks to make inroads in the Indonesian market at Australia's expense.

Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association (NTCA) executive director Luke Bowen, who leaves with the tour on Sunday, said Indonesia's warm reception to Brazilian overtures was the biggest worry for destabilised northern beef industry.

"Brazil is all over Indonesia at the moment like a fat kid on a cupcake," Mr Bowen said.

"From what I'm seeing and hearing the two countries see a lot of synergies in the relationship, which is being cemented through the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, China, India) trading bloc arrangement.

"By comparison our relationship with Indonesia is somewhere down a dusty track with all of us wondering what the heck happened."

Jitters over the Brazilian push were heightened recently when Indonesia announced it would consider changes in legislation to allow importers to source beef from countries like Brazil that have declared zones free of foot and mouth disease (FMD) within their sovereign boundaries.

Indonesia has resisted pressure in the past to import from Brazil using a country-based classification system, rather than a zone-based system.

That position may change as Indonesia, along with other meat-consuming nations around the world with cash-strapped consumers, looks to access cheaper meat from countries with FMD-declared free zones, a move that would also open the door to India and Argentina.

Mr Bowen said all beef producing nations around the world saw Indonesia as a massive market of untapped potential and were doing "whatever it takes" to get a slice of the action.

"Indonesia at the moment has an ambassador over there who is a great salesman and the message is striking a chord with Indonesian consumers who are concerned about rising beef costs," he said.

"You've also got Indian buffalo meat coming in through the back door with all sorts of dirty tricks going on, like labelling it as Australian beef and selling it off at a dirt cheap price.

"It's pretty ordinary gear, but the Indonesians are buying it because it's dirt cheap and it bulks up their grinding meat."

Mr Bowen said he applauded Mr Westra van Holthe's initiative to try to engage Indonesian policy makers, but remained frustrated at the efforts of the federal government.

"Our level of engagement is just not where it should be - not very sophisticated is the way I would describe it," he said.

A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said a federal government delegation visited Indonesia in March and hosted an Indonesian party in Canberra in July, which met at a roundtable forum involving the Prime Minister and the NTCA.

The spokesman said Mr Ludwig was in regular contact with highly placed Indonesian officials. 

Beef talks in Indonesia

Beef talks in Indonesia