After a near-decade hiatus, Australia can now again trade with the world’s biggest livestock importer, after the Federal Government opened a new pathway for the export of live animals to Saudi Arabia. Australia has not exported sheep to Saudi Arabia since 2012 over concerns the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System would impinge on its sovereignty. But Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said today the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment had been working closely with counterparts in Saudi Arabia on arrangements that met export requirements and ensure the health and welfare of animals. Exporters must hold a valid licence and have arrangements in place to ensure animal health and welfare requirements are met during preparation and transport. In the case of feeder and slaughter livestock, these obligation extend to the point of slaughter in the importing country. Under the new pathways, Australian exporters can apply to the department to have the required arrangements approved for the export of livestock to Saudi Arabia. Rural Export and Trading WA general manager Murray Frangs said being able to ship to Saudi Arabia could significantly boost opportunities for supply of Australian sheep to the region. Mr Frangs did not expect full-scale shipments to resume in the near term. “It is meaningful to have the Saudi market back in the mix and reinstating markets is always welcome,” he said. “But after years of Australia being unable to supply sheep, Saudi has found alternative suppliers.” Mr Frangs said Australia would also need to be competitive on a global stage, and take into account the current higher sheep prices in the domestic market, which is being driven by the strong demand from Eastern States for restocking purposes. Sheep Producers Australia chief executive Stephen Crisp said market access to Saudi Arabia would support sheep producers and offer additional food security to the Saudi people and sustainability of the live sheep export trade. Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive Mark Harvey-Sutton said Saudi Arabia remained the Middle East’s major livestock market, importing nearly eight million sheep, goats, cattle and camels each year. Mr Harvey-Sutton said a commercial and government mission from Saudi Arabia in early 2018 set the scene for the new arrangements, along with extensive consultation involving exporters, importers, industry bodies, DAWE, and the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture. RSPCA Australia senior policy officer Jed Goodfellow said that re-opening of trade to Saudi Arabia was extremely risky and yet another animal welfare disaster waiting to happen. “Sheep on long-haul voyages to the Middle East are always at high risk of suffering and death,” Dr Goodfellow said “But on top of that, the trade to Saudi Arabia is particularly problematic due to the heightened political sensitivities and the government’s long history of rejecting shipments on a whim.” Dr Goodfellow said the Australian Government needed to explain to the community what deal had been done, and what measures have been put in place to ensure there wouldn’t be repeats of the many past disasters.