A LIVE sheep export summit with Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud and departmental officials has been proposed to resolve the future of 60,000 sheep held in a pre-shipment feedlot in Western Australia.
Western Australian farmers are looking for answers after export licence approval for the shipment to the Middle East was withdrawn for the second time, reportedly by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, but without any reason given.
The Australian Livestock Exporters Council yesterday said in a media statement that EMS Rural Exports, a subsidiary of Emanuel Exports, had been approved to load the sheep onto the Al Shuwaikh before this was withdrawn late Wednesday night.
However, DAWR has said no approval or conditional approval of an export permit was granted prior to the second live export licence suspension. The department said it issued a direction at 9am Australian Western Standard Time Wednesday morning to prevent sheep being loaded or transported for export without express permission from DAWR. A licence suspension was issued around 930pm AWST, DAWR said.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook said Mr Littleproud and his departmental chiefs need to come top Western Australia and talk with live exporters “and clearly lay it out.”
“But at the moment no-one is talking to one another and I’m just disappointed that they haven’t considered this serious enough to come over here and talk to us.
“It’s a festering sore here with these sheep sitting in a feedlot with nowhere to go and its needs resolution,” he said.
“MacTiernan (WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan) just keeps saying put them back into the local trade and let them be absorbed.
“But 60,000 sheep, some butchers somewhere are going to pull out of the market while they digest them, so there will be implications for the rest of us who have stock to sell because you are taking competition out of the market,” he said.
Some WA processors have also indicated the live export stock are not they type of sheep they want, which might mean more time in the feedlot, Mr Seabrook said.
Questions over who pulled the export licence
Despite assurances from Mr Littleproud that he would not ban the trade and reportedly giving personal assurances to Middle East importers that the trade would continue, after the second exports licence approval withdrawal in two months, Mr Seabrook said “as producers we are wondering.”
“It’s a ban by default rather than a ban by legislation.
“There are lots of contradictions floating around at the moment,” he said.
Mr Seabrook said many people have told him they believe Mr Littleproud has had a role in the licence suspensions.
“I’m not prepared to say that – I’m going to give him (Mr Littleproud) the benefit of the doubt — but a number of people have said it to me.
“But I think the interference of MacTiernan over here has encouraged people to make waves and cause strife.”
Mr Seabrook said “not for one second” did he believe that Mr Littleproud had no power on the issue.
“He is under enormous pressure from others in the party, he’s a new Minister.”
Mr Littleproud and his department have also been under strong pressure from the Opposition and animals rights groups to not allow the licensing of the shipment and halt Middle East northern summer sheep shipments.
“It does reach the point where someone has to actually step in.
“They have really got to say to Emanuels we will fast track whatever the problems are or we will tell you straight away you are never going to get them out of the country, but this dragging them along, I think it is bloody hard going,” the PGA leader said.
Mr Seabrook understood that reasons for the first licence suspension were historic, and related to a 2017 Awassi Express shipment in which more than 2400 sheep died, but he was perplexed about the latest suspension. If the department knew it was going to withdraw the EMS Rural Export licence, he believed Emanuel could have been given a week to empty its supply chain and get the sheep away.
“That just sort of smacks of bureaucracy at its worst.”
What might Australia’s Middle East trade partners think?
After Mr Littleproud’s visit to the Middle East in May and Ms MacTiernan’s recent visit to improve sheep meat access, Mr Seabrook said Australia’s Middle Eastern sheep importers must be thinking “we go over and tell them one thing and then we go back home and do the other thing.”
“It jeopardises all trade; we can easily create a feeling over there that we can don’t care and that can be reciprocated.”
Mr Seabrook was also critical of Ms MacTiernan’s efforts to halt northern summer shipments to the Middle East and place the Emanuel sheep with a WA meat processor while suggesting she was working on behalf of WA producers.
“There is a big difference between someone who you know is wholeheartedly with you and someone else who is saying they are with you, but hasn’t quite got their shoulder to the wheel.
“She has said for years that given the power she would stop the trade.”
However, Mr Seabrook said there was a level of confidence among those heavily involved in exporting that northern summer shipments could be carried out to the right ports under the right criteria “with a fair degree of safety”.
“They would be very careful, but they would go ahead.”
Mr Seabrook said licences to export the WA sheep have now been suspended twice by the department after first being approved.
“The first time they were ready to go they got the permit ready to go at 11 o’clock in the morning and at 5 o’clock they got advice from Canberra that the licence had been revoked.”
Trucks were ready to load sheep when shipment stopped
In the latest suspension incident, Mr Seabrook said the Al Shuwaikh was berthed at Fremantle for feed and sheep loading, and trucks were backed into the WA feedlot loading ramps when the EMS Rural Exports licence approval was withdrawn by DAWR’s compliance unit.
“They (Emanuels) were completely blind-sided by what happened, they’ve spent an enormous amount of time with their lawyers trying to work out a way through this.
“They thought they had found a way and they don’t know what to do now,’ he said.
“They don’t know whether they have been ganged up against no matter what they do and won’t be able to get them out or whether they can do something to comply.”
Mr Seabrook said Emanuel Exports had been “burnt ferociously” by the situation – in terms of its reputation, shipping, sheep purchase and feeding costs.
“I would suggest it is probably running close to a million dollars – 45 cents a day for 66,000 sheep in feedlot costs plus infrastructure costs.”
He suggested Emanuel Exports might have paid an average of $100-plus for sheep in the consignment.
An Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council statement yesterday said it is now less than six weeks until the important religious Eid al Adha or Festival of the Sacrifice 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.
“But how does that gel with ships leaving with lots of sheep on board within the next three weeks, because it takes three weeks to get there,” Mr Seabrook said.
Emanuel Exports director Nicholas Daws said the sheep are being held at a pre-export quarantine property near Perth, WA, under veterinary supervision with access to food, water and shelter, and are in good condition.
ALEC said it shared the firm belief of the National Farmers Federation, Sheep Producers Australia and Western Australian producers that animal welfare needed to be the highest priority at all times throughout the supply chain.
“ALEC supports the Federal Government’s commitment to producers and our importer customers to continue Australia’s sheep export trade while new shipping standards are applied, as per the recommendations of the McCarthy Review.”
PGA launches new website
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association also yesterday launched the PGA ‘Support Live Exports’ marketing campaign, to highlight the economic and social consequences of banning live sheep exports on producers, regional families, regional communities, rural businesses and WA’s international trading partners.
The campaign includes a dedicated website www.liveexports.com.au where farmers, rural businesses and community members can sign on and contribute to support the live sheep export industry.
Mr Seabrook said today’s launch is the first part of what will be an evolving campaign which will include social media, advertising, interviews, industry events and lobbying to dispel the myths about this vital industry.
“Rural Western Australia can’t afford to sit still on this issue,” Mr Seabrook said.
“Everyone who has an interest in farming needs to get behind this campaign and show their support for this vital industry.”
“Live sheep exports underpin the Western Australian sheep meat industry, which is why it is imperative that as an organisation representing primary producers, we have the ability respond quickly and professionally to the actions of those who want to shut it down.
“We are seeking the support of producers, regional and rural businesses, and the general public to continue our work in promoting the importance of live sheep exports, and to bring balance back into the issue to Fix it – Don’t ban it.”