Labor blames tense relations with Indonesia for the country’s decision to dramatically cut imports of Australian cattle.
Indonesia will only allow 50,000 head of cattle this September quarter, down from 250,000 in the June quarter.
Live exporters were taken by surprise by the decision, which was only made last week and emerged publicly on Tuesday.
Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive Alison Penfold says 50,000 is”clearly not very much”.
“We’ll have to work our way through and hope the figure bounces back,” she told ABC radio on Tuesday.
Exporters are unsure what prompted the decision, but they don’t believe any political reasons are behind it.
Relations with Jakarta were set back following the execution of Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and concerns about turn-backs of asylum seeker boats.
“I think people are suggesting there a whole range of issues that are related – that’s not our view,” Ms Penfold said.
But the opposition says the deterioration of relations hasn’t helped.
“The relationship with Indonesia does matter,” Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon told ABC radio.
The decision was made in part because Indonesia is trying to become self-sufficient in producing cattle, Mr Fitzgibbon conceded.
The federal government expects Indonesians to pay more for Australian beef as a result.
Such a major reduction would lead to a shortage of cattle in Indonesian feedlots and reduced slaughter numbers, a spokesman for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told AAP.
“The Australian government will continue to make representations on behalf of exporters to ensure this important trade relationship is maintained,” he said in a statement.