Saudi sheep trade to resume
The multimillion-dollar live sheep export trade to Saudi Arabia is likely to resume by midyear, after successful continuing negotiations between the Australian and Saudi Arabian governments.
WA industry sources said negotiations culminated in a visit by a Saudi delegation this week to Australia, including WA.
Australia has not exported sheep to Saudi Arabia since 2012 because Saudi Arabia was concerned the Federal Government’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System requirements would impinge on its sovereignty.
However, the Federal Government and exporters have been working with the Saudis and importers to revise the existing memorandum of understanding on live export, which would confirm alignment of animal welfare standards and enable the live exports to resume.
After the successful outcome of these negotiations, it is likely a trial shipment from Fremantle will sail by July, most likely arranged by Australia’s biggest sheep exporter, Emanuel Exports. Emanuel Exports did not return calls.
The MOU, last updated in 2009, outlines conditions for the live trade and includes assurances that livestock will be treated in line with World Organisation for Animal Health welfare standards, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory.
In 2009, Saudi Arabia was Australia’s third biggest Middle Eastern market for live sheep, importing more than 576,000 head valued at $55 million, most supplied by WA producers and shipped from Fremantle.
At the live sheep trade’s peak in the 1990s and early 2000s, export volumes to Saudi Arabia peaked at over one million head a year. In the absence of Australian livestock, Saudi Arabia is importing an estimated eight million head a year from unregulated markets like Sudan and Eritrea.
The Australian Livestock Exporters Council said Saudi Arabia had played a significant role in Australia’s sheep export industry.
ALEC said reopening the market was prioritised in a way that upheld international, Australian and Saudi animal welfare requirements.
Separately, WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan has instructed her department to investigate an Emanuel Exports voyage last August from Fremantle to the Middle East, claiming the Federal Government was not taking its animal welfare seriously.
Figures recently published by Canberra showed a mortality rate of 3.76 per cent on the voyage to Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, well beyond the reportable mortality level of 2 per cent.