Australia insisted Thursday that its suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia after cruelty claims complied with world trade rules as calls grow for graziers to be compensated.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard hit back at suggestions that the ban of all live cattle exports to Indonesia for up to six months, announced Wednesday, could be in breach of World Trade Organization requirements.
"What we have done does not breach the World Trade Organization rules," she told public broadcaster ABC.
"We can, under those rules, make appropriate arrangements for animal welfare and we are doing that."
Gillard said the government had warned the cattle industry as early as January that animal welfare concerns had to be addressed, and neither of the responses provided in March and May had been "up to standard".
Since an explosive documentary showing graphic acts of cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs was aired last month, thrusting the issue into the spotlight, Gillard said the industry had again offered a plan of action.
"But what has been provided back to government so far doesn’t give us the kind of assurance we want that Australian cattle are going to be treated in a way that Australians would find acceptable over in Indonesia through the live trade," she said.
Gillard would not be drawn on whether Canberra would compensate cattle farmers for the lost trade, estimated to be in excess of Aus$1 billion (US$1.05 billion) by some graziers, who claim produce and land values will plummet.
"We'll work with the industry, the respectful thing to do I think is for us to be talking to them directly and we’ll do that," said Gillard.
Live exports to Indonesia account for about one-fifth of all the Southeast Asian nation's rising beef consumption.
Jakarta is not yet satisfied that the video showing brutal abuse of Australian cattle in Indonesian slaughterhouses is authentic but has promised to intensify welfare programmes and says it has to "respect" the ban.
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.