Export industry buoyed by visit

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig is confident the live export industry will meet the first deadline for supply chain assurances, after a visit to the Middle East last week.

A delegation of industry representatives and exporters joined the Senator on his visit to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar to brief importers and government on the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

Exporters previously voiced concerns that the March 1 deadline, in which 75 per cent of Australia's live trade needs to meet ESCAS, was too ambitious.

Senator Ludwig confirmed that challenges existed, but said animal welfare improvements had been made and the government and industry would continue their work until the system was in place.

"We are taking action with industry to secure a strong future for Australia's live animal export trade," Senator Ludwig said.

"This trade is important for Australia - it supports jobs, families and communities, particularly in regional Australia.

"The trade is also important for our trading partners - it supports their food security and human health."

Delegates from the Australian Live Export Council, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) and the Cattle Council of Australia attended the six-day trip, saying the visit was successful but there was still work to be done.

Some individual supply chains may not meet the timeframe and could source alternative supply, but how many only exporters know.

SCA president Ian McColl said he believed that despite the deadline, the industry would not stop because it largely depended on shipping schedules.

Mr McColl said some exporters would have ships leaving in March, while others would not depart for weeks or months after the deadline.

He added it was only when ships departed Australia that the assurances needed to be in place.

Cattle Council chairman Andrew Ogilvie said for the most part, demand for cattle from the Middle East would not be strong until the lead up to Ramadan in August.

He said that meant there would be more time before shipping.

Overall, Mr Ogilvie was confident that exporters could meet the timeframe.

"Most of the work to be done concerns animal traceability and supply chains and the paperwork involved in accrediting those supply chains," he said.

"From what I saw, the infrastructure was quite sound and that's the thing that takes time."

However, WA Livestock Exporters Association chairman John Edwards said he believed demand from the Middle East would slow down in the interim as some markets grappled with the regulation.

"Australian exporters are driving the delivery of ESCAS as hard as they can, but ultimately it is importing governments and the importers themselves that dictate the pace," Mr Edwards said.

"As a consequence, we will face far greater competition from our competitors and it will potentially be at the expense of the Australian livestock industry."

Those unable to meet the deadline may look to alternative markets, which could result in lost market share and a fall in demand.

Mr Edwards said this could lead to lower farm gate prices.

In addition, faced with reduced market share, exporters' operational economies of scale could be affected, making them uncompetitive.

After the Middle East visit, Mr Edwards said he hoped the Senator had a better understanding and appreciation for the region.

"Senator Ludwig can be assured the live export industry will continue to focus on delivering better animal welfare for the sustainability of the trade with Middle East markets through the ESCAS ," he said.

However, Mr Edwards said continued support and ongoing government-to-government dialogue would be needed to overcome road blocks associated with making the process work.

"There are issues not easily solved overnight and flexibility is needed for this to be a success," he said.

Long term, Mr McColl said the industry was optimistic about the new system.

"It should give the nations we are exporting to a level of security that we value their markets and wish to continue trading with them for a long time," he said.

"What's important is that these outcomes mean the primary driver has been the improvement in animal welfare outcomes, not just for Australian animals but in many of the nations we are dealing with."

Work to be done *

"A lot of work has been done over the last 20 years and there has been a consolidation of efforts in the last 12 months, and in the last six months in particular," Wellard Rural Exports managing director Steve Meerwald said.

"More work is being done now and there will still be more work to be done between now and the end of the month. We are now working to ensure the markets we do go to are compliant by the time we need to ship."

Tenterden producer Murray Hall believes Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig should provide exemptions to the tranche 1 deadline where needed.

Mr Hall runs a sheep and cattle enterprise and relies on both local and export markets.

"My preference is to sell weaner cattle to local feeder markets and sell my sheep at suitable weights to local processors and try to not rely on live export. However, live export provides an important alternative when we need it," he said.

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