Gulf sheep exports to resume

EXCLUSIVE Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Off to market: Sheep exports to Iran and  Bahrain set to resume.
Camera IconOff to market: Sheep exports to Iran and Bahrain set to resume. Credit: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

Australia is on the brink of resuming live sheep exports to Bahrain and Iran in a move that will create a huge boost for WA farmers but outrage animal welfare activists.

The Federal Government has been in top-level talks with the two countries and others in the Middle East as it pushes ahead with plans to restore the trade to its historic highs.

Industry sources said Iran wanted about 1.3 million sheep a year and Bahrain up to 400,000, with the vast majority to come from farmers in the southern half of WA for export through Fremantle.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce is preparing to visit the Middle East to bed down the re-opening of the lucrative but high-risk markets.

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Bahrain rejected 20,000 sheep from WA in 2012 amid claims some were diseased, sparking an animal welfare disaster.

The sheep were sent to Pakistan, where a brutal cull by local authorities caused outrage among farmers and animal welfare groups.

Australia has not exported live sheep to Iran, once the nation's biggest customer at a million head a year, since a boycott was imposed more than 30 years ago.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said negotiations with Iran had progressed to the stage of animal health certification requirements.

DAFF said it was optimistic trade with Bahrain would reopen "early this year".

"I'd be very disappointed if we hadn't made a breakthrough before the end of the financial year," Mr Joyce said.

"I know we are close (with Bahrain and Iran) and there are some other ones we are looking at as well.

"I won't mention them because we are not as close."

Mr Joyce will visit WA for the first time since becoming minister in September when he attends a beef industry forum in Broome on February 28, where a key focus will be boosting live cattle exports to Indonesia.

Jakarta has flagged importing 720,000 cattle from Australia this year, up from about 400,000 last year.

The increased demand has already led to higher prices and Mr Joyce said he hoped reopening markets in Bahrain and Iran would achieve a similar boost for sheep producers.

"I am very aware from the last time I was in WA talking to farmers in the wheat/sheep belt that we have got to do some work to get a better income stream flowing into those areas," he said.

"The live sheep trade is a crucial component to the economic underpinning of so many of those farms."

Mr Joyce was dismissive of critics of his attempts to boost live export despite a string of recent investigations into alleged breaches of animal welfare and supply chain regulations in the Middle East.

"I must be going all right because every day I open my inbox and there are hundreds of people who hate my guts, predominately animal activists," he said.

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