Australian minister visits Indonesia over cattle exports

JAKARTA, June 20, 2011 (AFP) - Australia's agriculture minister will hold talks Monday in Indonesia on restoring live cattle exports in the wake of an animal cruelty scandal, officials said.

Australia has suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia for up to six months after an explosive documentary showing graphic acts of cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs was aired on Australian television last month.

"Senator (Joe) Ludwig is scheduled to meet his counterpart, Indonesian Minister for Agriculture Suswono, and other key Indonesian political, agriculture, and trade representatives," the Australian embassy said.

Australia's live exports to Indonesia make up about one-fifth of all the Southeast Asian nation's rising beef consumption.

Ludwig said earlier that the trade, worth Aus$318 million a year (US$340 million), would not start again until safeguards were in place to ensure animal's were slaughtered humanely.

Ludwig said Indonesia was one of Australia's closest trading partners and a rapid resumption of the live cattle exports was in the interests of both countries.

"It is a relationship of tremendous importance to Australia and the Australian government remains committed to working constructively and cooperatively with Indonesia on this issue," he said in a statement released late Sunday.

The footage televised by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation showed Indonesian abattoir workers repeatedly slashing live cattle and otherwise subjecting them to extreme physical abuse before they were slaughtered.

Indonesia's parliament passed a law on livestock welfare in 2009 but it has not been implemented and no sanctions are in place for abattoirs that mistreat animals, despite the mainly Muslim's country's concerns about halal butchering.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered an investigation into the abuse.

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