Labor agriculture spokesman Paul Papalia has put himself at odds with the State's peak farming groups by declaring calls to expand the live export industry "wrong" because of uncertainty over market access.
Both Labor and Premier Colin Barnett believe a shift away from live exports to onshore processing is inevitable despite pressure from WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association for the State Government to support live trade expansion.
Responding to WAFarmers' election lobbying on live exports, Mr Papalia said: "I think they are wrong. I don't think it is a very responsible attitude to suggest that we should be unreservedly expanding sheep exports."
Mr Papalia said Labor favoured a gradual shift to onshore processing to create local jobs and give farmers greater certainty.
"The sheep export industry in particular is vulnerable to factors outside our control. We think it would be more secure and have greater benefits to the State and farmers and their communities to have onshore processing and chilled meat exports," he said.
Mr Papalia said Bahrain's refusal to accept a shipment of 20,000 sheep from WA last year amid claims some animals were diseased highlighted the uncertain nature of the industry.
He acknowledged his comments might be unpopular with some farmers but said Labor's position mirrored that of the Liberal Party.
Asked about the future of live exports in October, Mr Barnett said: "I would hope that maybe over the next 10 to 15 years we can progressively transition the industry from live exports to chilled meat or carcass exports."
Mr Barnett was guarded in his comments yesterday, saying WA producers would have to respond to changing conditions.
"In 10 to 15 years time, WA will need to provide a mix of options - both processed/boxed meat and live export - to respond to the market's needs," he said.
WA Nationals have backed the expansion of live trade and pledged $25 million to build industry development centres in Katanning and Broome.
WAFarmers president Dale Park said live export policy was essentially a Federal Government matter but the industry also depended on State Government support to make implementing ESCAS, the supply chain regime, cheaper for farmers.
"The livestock export trade is not only vitally important to WA livestock producers but it is crucial to the future of agriculture in this State, so the support of the State Government has been and will be imperative to secure its future," Mr Park said.