Legal and WTO challenges ‘real risks’ if live sheep trade banned

Sheep Central, June 15, 2023

ALEC chairman David Galvin

AUSTRALIA’S livestock exporters claim the risk of a class action and World Trade Organisation challenge are “very real” if the Albanese Government proceeds with its plan to phase out live sheep exports by sea.

In an 18-page submission to the government’s live sheep phaseout panel, Phillip Glyde, the chairman of the Australian Livestock Exporters Association David Galvin has put a comprehensive case against the policy.

As well as outlining the domestic and international trade, business and community implications of the proposed phaseout, Mr Galvin argues that governments are the only entities that can supply a good international trade reputation, stating doubt as to how Australian people and companies can ever be compensated for damage to that reputation.

“Why should taxpayers be forced to repair damage that their elected officials chose to cause? Mr Galvin asks.

“If Governments are concerned about other domestic policy goals, such as protecting animal welfare, the principle in international trade law is that Governments should take the least restrictive policy measures to achieve the desired outcomes.

“Banning the export of a commodity is the most extreme policy restriction that a government can put in place and should be reserved for the most severe cases of harm that a government is trying to prevent,” Mr Galvin writes.

Mr Galvin points out that the phaseout policy is politically contested and the Liberal and National parties have given a commitment to reinstate the trade should they win office at the next election, supported by ALEC.

“However, the damage that will be wrought, even by legislating a ban without commencing it prior to the next election will do lasting damage.

“Supply chains cannot merely be turned on and off like a tap,” Mr Galvin writes.

“Governments need to be able to demonstrate that there is no alternative to a ban, otherwise, any such policy is open to challenge through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), not to mention the risks associated with a class action taken by affected parties through the Australian court system.

“If the Australian Government ultimately bans the export of livestock, the prospects of negotiating a free trade agreement or comprehensive economic partnership agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)3 are practically zero,” he argues.

“Currently, Australian livestock exports enter GCC member states with zero tariffs applied.

“Frozen, boxed and chilled meat, on the other hand, along with many other agricultural and non-agricultural commodities face significant tariffs at the border,” Mr Galvin points out.

“It is the producers of these commodities that will ultimately lose out.

“To this point, ALEC puts to the panel that is very much within its scope to consider the international trade ramifications of this policy and alerts the panel that the risks of a WTO challenge and class actions are very real.”

Mr Galvin writes that it is clear to ALEC that WTO laws are largely unsettled on the issue of export bans – particularly if they are discriminatory to trading partners, apply moral judgment or are questionable in necessity.

“Such an action places risk on Australia’s entire trading reputation which is a cause of palpable concern amongst other agricultural industries particularly.

“It is incumbent on the panel to advise the Minister of these very real risks.”

Click here to read the full ALEC submission.


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  1. Frank Byrne, June 18, 2023

    Keep this very important trade going. Even the cut back of live sheep has affected the price now. Live export creates a floor price of store sheep Australia-wide, millions of WA sheep are trucked to eastern states now pushing the sale yard price down. Please don’t go back to pre-live sheep export in the 1970’s, when we had to shoot our loved sheep. It was heart-breaking.

  2. Joe Scammell, June 16, 2023

    A very well-constructed piece of advice for Watt to consider. Maybe a shortened version of the report could be published in Australian newspapers to allow the public to freely read and hear a balanced conversation about the greater implication of banning of an entire industry. Thank you to Sheep Central for reporting on this submission. The silent majority need to stand up and be heard.

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