PARTS of the live export industry are once again at a standstill after Indonesia unexpectedly dusted off old rules governing the importation of breed stock from Australia.
Industry representatives from both countries are understood to be locked in high-level talks, with cattle stranded and companies struggling to get to grips with the changed regulatory regime.
Shipments by at least one major exporter have stalled, while a senior industry figure predicted no more breed stock would leave Australia bound for Indonesia until the dispute was resolved.
The problems arose in the wake of disagreements between import/export companies and Indonesian Customs over whether the Indonesian government's new 5 per cent import tariff on cattle imported from Australia for slaughter should also apply to certain breeding animals.
The Australian has been told Indonesian Customs used rules hitherto ignored to claim the breed stock were, in fact, animals for slaughter, unexpectedly rejecting documentation of a type that had previously been routinely approved.
Luke Bowen, executive director of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, said the Indonesian government was now requiring individual "certificates of pedigree" - records of each animal's parentage - whereas previously it had accepted more general information about the herd.
"The industry understands that the director-general of livestock in the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture has requested independent certificates of pedigree for all cattle to be exported (to Indonesia) for breeding," he said.
Senior cattle industry figures said they were keen to avoid antagonising Indonesia when relations were already tense, suggesting the problems might have arisen out of a misunderstanding.
But cattlemen described the changes as "ridiculous", because most animals raised in northern Australia live in large herds where any given cow could have been serviced by one of a number of bulls.
They said detailed parentage information was normally required only for stud animals, and could not be obtained for current stock without costly DNA testing.
About 2000 breeding cows that arrived in Indonesia on Monday have not yet been released to the Indonesian importer by Indonesian authorities, while about 2000 more animals are stranded on the outskirts of Darwin because the necessary export permits cannot now be obtained, according to their owner, the North Australian Cattle Company.
If the dispute goes unresolved, it could prevent Australia sending breed stock to Indonesia in the future, shaving a further 10 per cent off the already much-reduced live cattle trade.
Australian breed stock is an important component in Indonesia's push to build its herd towards beef self-sufficiency, on which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has staked his reputation.
Ashley James, manager of the North Australian Cattle Company, said Indonesia's request was almost impossible to implement.
"When you've got stations that are running 30,000 head of cattle, it just can't be done," he said.
"There's no way of knowing exactly which bull joined with which heifer to produce which cow."
Last month Indonesia shocked the live export industry by imposing a retrospective 5 per cent duty on cattle imported for slaughter.
Some saw the move in part as retribution for Australia's sudden ban on live exports last year.