AUSTRALIA could be permanently cut off from potentially its biggest market for live sheep – Saudi Arabia — if it did not resolve access issues between the two countries, according to a Western Australian exporter.
Emanuel Exports managing director Graham Daws also believes re-establishing the Saudi live export trade is important to the signing of a free trade agreement with the Gulf Co-operation Council.
Saudi Arabia this week approved South African livestock imports after last week temporarily banning sheep from its biggest supplying country Somalia, yet Australia has been unable to negotiate re-entry into the valuable Middle East market. The country’s recent live sheep access developments have highlighted the continuing frustration of Australian exporters seeking the re-opening of the trade.
Click here to get Sheep Central story links sent to your email inbox.
Mr Daws said Saudi Arabia wants Australia’s sheep and cattle.
“They import 8-9 million animals from other parts of the world and they need Australia, even as a back-up.
“We could guarantee a million sheep a year to Saudi Arabia and it would put money into rural Australia, money into farmers’ pockets and we would have to be taking care of animal welfare.”
Mr Daws said Saudi Arabia could potentially be Australia’s largest live export customer, “but we are the ones denying them access and they really don’t understand it.
“We as an industry, have asked, many times, endless times, that ESCAS be re-formed, not watered down, re-formed, to make it workable in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Live sheep have not been exported to Saudi Arabia from Australia since August 2012 due to the country’s concern that Australia’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System would impinge on its sovereignty. In May this year, the Trade Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade recommended that the government explore whether an independent auditor monitoring Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System implementation would meet Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty concerns.
Saudi Arabia was once one of Australia’s biggest live sheep markets and it has been estimated a resumption of the trade could be worth up to $100 million, taking up to a million sheep and 100,000 cattle annually.
The Federal Government, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council claim they are continuing to work on re-starting the Saudi live export trade. But in the four years since the last Australian sheep was exported to the country and 10 years after a Memorandum of Understanding on the Trade in Live Animals was signed between the two countries, efforts to re-establish the trade have failed.
However, Mr Daws believed the Federal Government “simply does not have the fortitude to make decisions that will start the ball rolling in opening negotiations with Saudi Arabia.”
“We have a MoU with Saudi Arabia which they want to work and abide by.
“They do have animal welfare laws and what we need to do is ensure that those laws are abided by,” he said.
Mr Daws said the ESCAS legislation was “OK” for Indonesia, but it is not compatible with many other countries.
“And certainly it (ESCAS) is not compatible with anywhere in the Middle East, but there are other ways to ensure the pillars of ESCAS are followed, rather than interfering and crossing borderlines in Saudi Arabia.”
“Our government is just sitting on its hands doing nothing and they are not prepared to do anything and Saudi Arabia is getting extremely frustrated and we will be cut off forever if we let this linger on and on,” he said.
Saudi Arabian government has not accepted ESCAS
A spokesperson for Minister for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the Coalition Government remained committed to reopening the livestock trade with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on terms acceptable to both countries.
“To date the Saudi Arabian Government has still not accepted the introduction of ESCAS within its borders.
“A future trading system will rely on the establishment of a vehicle that assures equivalence with the principles that underpin ESCAS,” the spokesperson said.
“The minister is determined to find a solution that would allow Australian sheep to be exported to Saudi Arabia, and encourages industry to continue to work closely with Saudi importers to establish a way forward, and to increase the probability of success in re-establishing this market.”
Since Mr Joyce’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2014, at which he discussed the live export trade, he has continued to engage with Saudi counterparts on this issue through diplomatic channels and direct correspondence. The Australian Embassy in Saudi Arabia also remains actively engaged in the issue with the Saudi authorities, the spokesperson said.
“Since 2011, Australia requires livestock exporters to implement ESCAS as a pre-condition of trade in feeder and slaughter livestock.
“To date the Saudi Arabian Government has not accepted the introduction of ESCAS within its borders and there is no agreement on a mechanism for restarting the trade.”
No GCC free trade agreement with ‘belligerent’ attitude
Mr Daws said Australia is the only country with a MoU with Saudi Arabia and its only source of disease-free animals.
“We will never get a free trade agreement with the Gulf Co-operation Council while Australia has this belligerent attitude that nothing has changed in Saudi Arabia and they (the government) is not prepared to look at anything other than ESCAS.
“We are saying they are prepared to deal, they are easy to deal with and it can all be done by attaching an annexure to the MoU – which they hold like a bible — and we can get the outcomes that ESCAS seeks.”
But Mr Daws said the Federal Government would have to be prepared to conduct live export in a way that is acceptable to the Saudis and which did not offend nor intrude in their business. He said there were alternatives to the costly ESCAS system that would achieve OIE animal welfare standards.
“Their issues are the Australian Government interfering in their commercial business and that’s what ESCAS does.”
Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Simon Westaway said ALEC continued to work on behalf on exporters with the Federal Government and in collaboration with the Sheepmeat Council of Australia to pursue the re-opening of the market in Saudi Arabia for Australian sheep.
“We believe the existing MoU, or a slightly reformed version thereof, provides the best foundation on which these high priority efforts to re-open the market can be based.
“Our advocacy and approach represents what we believe is a logical approach to what has historically been a major export market.”
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. In March 2014, the GCC Ministerial Council approved the resumption of FTA negotiations, but has made no announcement on when negotiations would resume and with which countries.