Another live sheep shipment put on hold as exporters seek clarity

Terry Sim, July 16, 2018

Harmony CEO Steve Meerwald

ANOTHER potential live sheep shipment to the Middle East has been put on hold after Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources suspended a second export licence last week.

The Western Australian-based entity Phoenix Exports had started buying sheep for a shipment to the Middle East, but stopped sourcing animals when the Emanuel Exports subsidiary EMS Rural Exports had its licence suspended last week.

Despite the latest licence setback, which followed the suspension of Emanuel Exports export licence three weeks before, the company said it is still seeking to export about 45,000 of the 60,000 sheep held in a feedlot outside Perth.

Some of the Emanuel sheep surplus to shipment requirements have been sold to WA processors, but a spokesman said the company was looking at other options to deliver about 45,000 sheep in the feedlot to the Arabian Gulf.

Phoenix Exports is the WA-based export division of Harmony Agriculture and Food Company (HAAFCO), an agribusiness jointly-owned by Australian investors and Chinese partner Hopshun Australia.

The division today said that due to circumstances beyond its control, it has cancelled the consignment of a number of sheep contracted to be exported in late July 2018.

“Phoenix expresses its continued support for the West Australian sheep industry and is working to resume its niche sheep export program in compliance with the highest level of animal care in the near future,” the statement said.

Clarity needed around live export process

Harmony chief executive officer Steve Meerwald said the company was waiting for clarity around the current situation, especially in regard to Animals Australia’s threat of an injunction against any department approval of an export licence for northern summer sheep shipments to the Middle East.

Animals Australia’s legal position is that it is not possible for the DAWR secretary to reach the required level of satisfaction to grant a permit for sheep shipments to the Middle East during the northern summer. If further permits are granted, the animal rights body has said it will once again look to commencing action in the Federal court to challenge the lawfulness of the permit.

“There is just too much uncertainty around the situation at the moment for us to put sheep into the system,” Mr Meerwald said.

“It would not be in anybody’s interests to end up with another group sheep that are caught up in limbo.”

The proposed sheep consignment was “only small”; less than 15,000 sheep, he said.

However, Mr Meerwald believed the mooted Animals Australia legal challenge was not species-specific and there was a need for clarity for all live animal exporters “across the board”.

“I don’t think this is necessarily just a sheep issue; there have been some question marks raised about process that potentially would have an impact on all livestock exports to all markets; it is something that needs to be sorted out.

“There is a sort of unofficial suspension around sheep at the moment, but nobody really understands what is going on and there is certainly no clarity around it.”

Neither the department nor the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud have explained why the EMS Rural Exports licence was suspended.

Minister says trade is open to exporters ‘who do the right thing’

ALEC chairman Simon Crean, left, with Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook last week proposed that Mr Littleproud should meet with exporters to clarify the way forward for the industry. And despite assurances from the minister that the suspensions were DAWR decisions, Mr Seabrook said many people have told him they believe Mr Littleproud has had a role in the licence action.

“I’m not prepared to say that – I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt — but a number of people have said it to me,” Mr Seabrook told Sheep Central.

Mr Littleproud responded, telling Sheep Central that any suggestions  he was behind the independent regulator’s decisions were “wrong, offensive and suggest ignorance of the law”.

“My office has released two sets of clear legal advice stating it is the regulator which has “power to give directions in relation to individual decisions or regulated entities” – not a politician.

“The Consumer Affairs Minister cannot tell the ACCC who to prosecute, Police Ministers cannot tell the cops which crooks to nab, and I can’t tell the independent regulator which exporter to suspend and on what grounds,” he said.

“The process of justice must be left to run its course.

“Any suggestion the regulator should ignore evidence to protect an exporter from licence suspension is extremely foolish and dangerous,” he said.

“Very serious matters are under investigation and this investigation must not be compromised.”

Mr Littleproud maintained that the live export market “is open to exporters who do the right thing”.

“I encourage licenced exporters to consider taking shipments to the Middle East.

“I’ve been in contact with our Middle East trading partners and have assured them the trade is open,” he said.

Live export summit idea ‘ill-considered’ – Littleproud

Mr Littleproud said suggestions he should hold a roundtable with exporters who are suspended and under investigation were ill-considered.

“I met with the Australian Live Exporters’ Council last Friday; I told ALEC, I expect it to lead.

“ALEC has said many times this trade can be done right,” he said.

“It’s time for ALEC and its members to show Australia they can do this and do it right.

“As I’ve said since the very beginning: I will not ban the trade, and I expect the independent regulator to police and regulate the trade without fear or favour, regardless of media coverage, political pressure or any other factor.”

ALEC has said it supported the Federal Government’s commitment to producers and its importer customers to continue Australia’s sheep export trade.

“It is now less than six weeks until Eid al Adha, an important religious period in the Middle East when cultural traditions drive a spike in demand for Australian sheep for local slaughter.

“With this in mind, it is vital for those working in the rural sector, including producers and associated industry employees, as well as our customers overseas, that the short-term and long-term future of the trade is secured,” ALEC said last week.

The National Farmers Federation also this week said the EMS Rural Exports licence suspension added to the significant uncertainty in the Western Australian sheep industry. The NFF called on all parties to work constructively and transparently to resolve the current situation.

WAFarmers president Tony York said if it was possible to bring any legal case against a live export licence approval “to a head” it would help clarify the situation for the trade.

He believed the next live sheep shipment to be approved to go to the Middle East would trigger Animals Australia court action.

Recent DAWR court woes highlights concerns – Animals Australia

Animals Australia legal counsel, Shatha Hamade said the recent concession that the export permit for a sheep shipment aboard the Al Messilah was unlawful only increased already significant concerns about the ability of the Department of Agriculture to regulate the live trade.

“The regulatory requirement for the granting of an export permit is clear: the secretary must be satisfied that multiple welfare conditions are met, including that the ‘travel arrangements for the livestock are adequate for their health and welfare’.

“This is a required welfare standard for the entire shipment of animals,” she said.

“The fact that over 300 sheep died on the last sheep shipment to the Middle East, at a time when the exporter would have been on notice that they must do everything in their power to keep every single animal alive, speaks to the inherent impacts of heat stress and related illnesses that cannot be mitigated during the northern summer.

“We shouldn’t forget that the position of the Australian Veterinary Association, a traditionally conservative body, is that no shipments should go in the Northern summer due to the immitigable welfare implications,” Ms Hamade said.

“This is the opinion of recognised animal health experts, so how can the secretary reach a different position?

“July through September are the recognised times of greatest risks for sheep on ships, so our legal team will continue to consider all available legal recourses to ensure the law is upheld.”


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