CATTLE producers are likely to bear the brunt if proposed massive regulatory cost hikes on livestock exporters go ahead because end markets have no ability to pay more.
The phenomenal rise of the cattle market has pushed the likes of Indonesian and Vietnamese buyers to breaking point and they are already talking to alternative suppliers like Brazil and Mexico.
Producers and exporters say a government move to recover the costs of oversight of the trade, which has blown out to extreme levels in recent years, will amount to a ban on live exports by stealth.
Many are asking whether there is not a case for taxpayers to shoulder some of the cost, given the heavy regulation brought down on the industry - far in excess of that imposed on other agricultural industries - has been at the behest of the demands of society.
Live exporters say the ever-increasing red tape is not only crippling the trade but many measures don't even flow through to better animal welfare outcomes.
Now the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has flagged a new round of increases in export fees and charges that adds up to a jump of more than 400 per cent over a three-year period from July 1.
Livestock export licenses will soar from $25,000 to more than $105,000; approved arrangement fees for sea shipments will go from $20,000 to $85,000; export premises registration will rise from $5,000 to more than $21,000, headage charges for cattle from $1.21 per animal to $5.16 and inspection fees from $220 an hour to $940.
The annual cost of departmental employees has shot to a whopping $15 million a year since the Federal Government starting imposing new measures on the industry three years ago in the wake of the Awassi Express voyage, where 2400 sheep died travelling from Western Australia to the Middle East.
Demands from some sectors of society for the trade to be banned followed the airing of television footage of the voyage.
Should the government move ahead with full cost recovery as flagged, the viability of the industry would be under serious threat, the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council has warned.
Export industry estimates are that it would add up to $50 a head, depending on ship, loading port and destination.
President of the Queensland Livestock Exporters Association Greg Pankhurst, in a letter sent to members, described the touted increases as devastating news, especially after all the work the industry had put in to meet Australia's world-leading animal welfare standards.
He said exporters were facing the challenges of both record prices from the drought-inflicted national cattle shortage and overcoming hurdles to continue reaching markets during uncertain COVID times.
Australian exporters paid some of the highest regulatory costs in the world and this development had the potential to take all the competition out of the Australian cattle market that the live export sector provided, he said.
Producers said in times of heavy cattle supply, such as forced sell-offs during drought, no live export bids would have a drastic downward effect on farm returns.
Agforce's cattle man Will Wilson said wherever a person grows cattle, there is some level of fundamental reliance on the live export sector.
He said farmers wanted more transparency from government regulators as to how the cost blow-outs have come about.
Something was wrong when the highest paid employees in an industry are the regulators, he said.
"At end of day, live exporters are service provider to the producer - they get our product to market. So we want to understand clearly how much per head of exported cattle the regulation burden will be," he said.
"And we want to see what cost recovery looks like in other industries.
"And what should not be forgotten is that the government continually says the regulation of this industry is a reflection of the sentiment of the people of Australia."
Both the DAWR and Federal Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, have been contacted for comment.
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