Saudi Arabia's Agriculture Minister will visit Australia this month with the demise of the live export trade between the two countries one of the hot topics on his agenda.
The Middle Eastern kingdom is understood to be frustrated with the Australian Government's changing rules on live exports, including the controversial Export Supply Chain Assurance System.
Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said yesterday that he would meet Saudi counterpart Fahd Balghunaim to discuss food security.
There have been no live exports to Saudi Arabia since the Government introduced ESCAS last year in a move that superseded two memorandums of understanding between the countries.
Dr Balghunaim signed off on both of the MOUs and is the most senior member of the Saudi Government to visit Australia since 2010.
The MOU on the trade in live animals was signed in 2005. It outlined conditions for the trade and included assurances that livestock would be treated in line with international animal welfare standards.
In March 2009, Dr Balghunaim and Labor's then-agriculture minister Tony Burke signed an amended MOU to provide further detail on the trade.
Saudi Arabia was Australia's primary live sheep market as recently as 2006 when it imported about 1.2 million head.
The increasing demands of Australian authorities and competition from other exporters, particularly Africa, were blamed for the trade to dwindling to 263,000 head in 2010 before it stopped last year.
WA farmers regard reopening the market as one of the keys to easing the crisis in the bush. Some farmers have warned they may have to shoot sheep because of an oversupply and low prices caused by cuts in the live export trade.
Senator Ludwig said the Government remained committed to the live export trade and the ESCAS reforms.
He said exporters were working with Saudi Arabia to implement ESCAS and the Government was doing what it could to support their efforts.
Despite his assurances, the live export industry is bracing for another round of regulatory changes as Labor pushes ahead with plans for an Independent Office of Animal Welfare.
Fremantle MP Melissa Parke, a critic of the live export trade, helped draft plans for the statutory body, which would operate outside the Department of Agriculture.
"It is envisaged that the IOAW would have a broad oversight and reporting role when it comes to animal welfare, which would include live export," Ms Parke said.Fremantle-based Wellard is hoping to resume live exports to Saudi Arabia this year after opening its own feedlot and abattoir. Wellard is upgrading an existing abattoir.
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