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Scabby mouth is one of many obstacles to Saudi sheep trade

Terry Sim, April 9, 2021

AUSTRALIAN sheep will need to vaccinated just once for scabby mouth to be eligible for export to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under a new pathway announced this week.

But the disease protocol is just one of the obstacles the Australian industry will need to overcome to resume shipments to the kingdom, once Australia’s third largest live sheep market.

The previous Saudi Arabian protocol require two scabby mouth vaccinations; however, one exporter said the need to have proof that the sheep have been vaccinated for SCM will be a central issue the industry will have to address before the kingdom can be a sustainable destination for Australian sheep.

“Whilst it may seem an inconsequential thing, in the current environment of strong demand for sheep by processors and for restocking east coast producers, any extra requirements that push farmers to sell to the easy option (no declarations needed for example) at similar prices – they will most certainly opt that way,” Rural Export and Trading WA general manager Murray Frangs said.

“The vaccination requirements would need to commence ahead of time to ensure it is well in place, so this current turn-off  focus will limit the capacity to provide a sustainable turn off — especially in the Western Australian sector — when the inevitable reduction in east coast demand comes about.

“Saudi, like all Middle East markets, remains price sensitive and there will be resistance to expected landed sheep prices for Australian sheep going forward, given they have been able to source live sheep elsewhere for the last 10 years without the Australian supply,” he said.

A Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment spokesperson said the requirement for one scabby mouth vaccination at least 30 days prior to the date of export to Saudi Arabia was part of the revised operational requirements for the preparation of sheep for live export to the kingdom.

However, the spokesperson said would not supply a full copy of the revised requirements to Sheep Central.

“Given the trade sensitivities associated with livestock protocols, they are not made public on Micor, but are only accessible on request and generally only to licensed livestock exporters and accredited veterinarians.

“The livestock export industry supports this approach.”

Live sheep have not been exported to Saudi Arabia from Australia since August 2012 due to the country’s concern that the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System would impinge on its sovereignty, but the DAWE spokesperson said no changes have been made to the ESCAS framework for the kingdom.

“It will apply equally to live feeder/slaughter sheep exported to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it does for live feeder/slaughter sheep exports to any market.”

“The department has been advised that the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is now accepting of ESCAS.”

Saudi has the potential to a significant market for Australia – RETWA

RETWA is the Australian subsidiary of Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading, Australia’s biggest live sheep buyer and importer into the Middle East.

Mr Frangs said Saudi Arabia has the potential to again be a significant market for Australian sheep producers; however, a lot of work is required from here to re-open this market, and in the first few years modest numbers can be expected as systems and processes are put in place to grow the market.

“Saudi requires first port of call for any livestock deliveries to be to Jeddah (Red Sea) so it will take some time to prepare the supply chain to be able to recommence supply of live sheep but the recent announcements are a great opportunity to provide for increased turn off capacity to the industry.

“Establishing the ESCAS accredited supply chains will also need to be a priority in determining the likely timing of the commencement of deliveries,” he said.

“As an exporter to the Gulf region who has been relied upon for decades to supply live sheep to sustain the regions protein demand for the population, we would need to ensure that the supply side in Australia is expanded to accommodate the potential to supply into Saudi again after a 10-year absence.

“Focus will need to be on sourcing increased numbers and introducing processes to ensure suitably vaccinated livestock are available to the Saudi market, otherwise it is likely that new export potential to Saudi market will be competing for the same sheep supply that KLTT would be looking at when positioning their vessels to Australia.”

Potential synergies with other markets

Mr Frangs said the new Saudi market opportunity has the potential to complement KLTT’s other existing markets, “so there could be synergies with existing markets”.

“KLTT is doing everything possible to support their own business market and that of their customers in Gulf markets (Kuwait, UAE, Qatar and Oman) in the current environment where regular and consist supply is not possible.

“As the framework is reinstated to supply sheep to KSA importers, KLTT welcome the opportunity to utilise the existing turn off capacity that we provide to the Australian producers to support an increase in the overall numbers shipped,” he said.

“Our investments in best in class livestock carriers will also be a significant attribute to support the new Saudi trade potential.”

A Northern Summer moratorium review is needed

Mr Frangs said it has taken the Australian live export industry decades to position itself in the MENA region as a reliable supplier of top quality product, supported by significant industry and regulatory investment in establishing a supply chain focussed on world leading welfare protocols and first class product. The clean green reputation of Australian agricultural product should never be relinquished, he said.

“The reality is that Australian sheep are being displaced in all our traditional markets by other suppliers from places such as South Africa and Northern African countries as a result of the (3.5 month) Northern Summer moratorium on Middle East live sheep.

“Importers want a continuity of supply as does the end user/consumer (restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and households).

“Interrupted supply generally leads to lost market share which is difficult to regain regardless of our reputation or quality,” he said.

“In the absence of Australian supply for many many years the KSA importers are sourcing sheep from a number of origins to ensure supply 12 months of the year.

“Given the very good voyage outcomes that have been achieved using active voyage management closer to and during the moratorium periods, we do see a strong case to review and focus the moratorium more tightly on those couple of months that represent the peak of the Northern Summer season,” he said.

“Updates to the active voyage management processes have undoubtedly played a large part in continuing the positive animal welfare outcomes of shipments, but it is recognised that there have also been other contributing factors such as the introduction of ASEL, changes to Marine Order 43, improvements in vessels, management practices and changes to the livestock types and condition exported.”

New live export opportunities should be pursued – SPA

Sheep Producers Australia chief executive officer Stephen Crisp said the body considered animal welfare its highest priority and is supportive of measures such as the industry-led moratorium on live sheep exports to the Middle East during the Northern Hemisphere summer months.

“The impact on producers from this moratorium should not be under-estimated and it is important for both the sustainability of the live sheep export industry as well as producers, particularly in Western Australia, that opportunities for new live sheep markets are pursued as a priority, He said.

Mr Crisp said SPA acknowledged and applauded the extensive collaboration in securing this important market.

“The market access to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will support sheep producers and offer additional food security to the Saudi people and sustainability of the live sheep export trade.

“The consultation with the sheep industry has been valuable and enabled producers to prepare livestock for export having immunised livestock ready for examination by veterinarians accredited by the Australian Government,” he said.

“The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) provides the mechanisms for animal traceback, and this is the accepted industry standard and a requirement by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

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