ESCAS still preferred way

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Australia's live animal export industry has warned that the country's stringent live animal export standards must play a part in the future of the trade.

Australian Livestock Exporters' Council chief executive Alison Penfold said the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System used in overseas markets must be, and would be, based on whole-of-chain welfare assurance.

Last week former WA Livestock Exporters' Association chairman and Saudi Arabian livestock company Suleiman Al Jabri Trading export manager John Edwards told _Countryman _ Australia's onerous ESCAS scheme had cost the country's livestock industry millions in lost sales throughout the Middle East.

Mr Edwards' company, which imports two million sheep, goats, cattle and camels every year, predominantly from markets other than Australia, said the Government's inaction in meaningfully engaging with Saudi Arabia and other Middle East markets was responsible for the lowest numbers of sheep exported to the region in 20 years.

He said exports had declined by more than 3.3 million head since 2000.

Mr Edwards said until the Federal Government was prepared to have a constructive dialogue with the Middle East, importers and their governments, the Australian livestock industry would continue to miss out on the lucrative trade the region offered.

Last year Saudi Arabia, which at its peak represented 32 per cent of all livestock exported to the Middle East from Australia, imported nearly eight million sheep, goats, cattle and camels into the country.

But a Federal Government spokesman for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said Australia exported more than 2.1 million sheep to the Middle East last financial year and the region remained a top export destination for Australian live sheep.

He said the Government would not consider any reduction in animal welfare standards for Australian livestock exported overseas, including Saudi Arabia.

Ms Penfold said the association's members had adopted and endorsed the implementation of ESCAS.

"Our members have spent millions of dollars investing in supply chains to ensure that practices and systems support compliance," she said.

"ESCAS remains a bespoke first-of-its-kind system and in some markets promotes and supports a meat distribution model over the centuries-old livestock trading model. This makes philosophical adoption far more of a challenge in markets where cultural business practices operate under a trading mentality. Change is occurring, but bedding down cultural acceptance will take time."

Ms Penfold said Saudi Arabia had presented a major challenge to ESCAS implementation.

"While the ESCAS system in simple terms seeks to assure and demonstrate OIE compliance, there remain some concerns about its implementation and the sovereign over-reach components," she said.

"Discussions at a government and business level are ongoing and ALEC remains focused on a reopening of the market as soon as is practicable in line with welfare assurance requirements.

"The minister remains committed to a reopening of the trade and is looking to industry to provide solutions, a challenge we are up for."

Ms Penfold said the development of a Livestock Global Assurance program could address some Middle Eastern country's concerns about Australian sovereign over- reach and address a number of criticisms of the ESCAS.

"This will improve industry ability to demonstrate compliance with ESCAS," she said.

"This program would, if implemented, be arm's length from industry and independent of government."

Ms Penfold said ALEC continued to engage with the Federal Government to seek out improvements to ESCAS and remove red tape.

"We will achieve this without undermining the core principles of the system - control, traceability, animal welfare and third-party auditing," she said. "Many of the reforms that industry has sought have been implemented."

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