The key Saudi Arabian live export market will remain closed to WA farmers indefinitely at a cost of millions of dollars a year under controversial Australian Government regulations that supersede a memorandum of understanding between the two countries.

Saudi Agriculture Minister Fahad Balghunaim, who left Perth yesterday after a three-day visit, said there was no hope of the trade reopening under the Government's controversial Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme.

The scheme was introduced last year without consultation with Saudi authorities despite an MOU between the two countries covering animal welfare issues, signed in 2005 and updated in 2009.

"ESCAS is a supply chain process which crosses borders and that is something we do not accept," Dr Balghunaim said.

Australian Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, who has repeatedly led farmers to believe there was hope of reopening the Saudi market under ESCAS, will meet Dr Balghunaim in Canberra today.

Dr Balghunaim said Saudi Arabia had made its position clear from the start through diplomatic channels and repeatedly assured Australia that Saudi authorities would address any concerns about animal welfare.

"We have said that whatever observations the Australian Government has we will respond to them, any worries they have are our responsibility to deal with," he said. "In Saudi Arabia, we place great ethical and social value on animal welfare and we have a strong religious commitment to the treatment of animals. Our policy as a government is extremely clear."

Saudi Arabia was Australia's primary live sheep market as recently as 2006 when it imported about 1.2 million head.

It imported 7.8 million sheep and cattle last year, but only a fraction came from Australia before the introduction of ESCAS closed the market.

"We would like to increase livestock trade from Australia," Dr Balghunaim said. "Australia is blessed with a minimal amount of animal diseases, along with New Zealand. We prefer these two."

WA farmers believe reopening the market is crucial to their survival after sheep prices plunged because falling live exports.

The West Australian

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