Committee against live trade ban

Melissa Williams and AAPCountryman
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Moves to ban live animal exports from Australia have been rejected by the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee.

Instead, committee members have recommended the Federal Government set up compensation channels for businesses affected by the mid-2011 temporary live export trade bans and boost its diplomacy efforts in importing countries.

They called for better government-to-government dialogue to explain Australia's introduction of new supply chain performance standards that comply with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) code, which came into effect for Indonesia in October and will be phased-in for other markets from February 2012.

The senate committee examined a bill by the Greens' Rachel Siewert to immediately prohibit the export of livestock for slaughter and a Bill from Senator Xenophon to phase-in a ban by mid-2014 and tabled its final report last week.

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It said neither bill should be passed and instead called for ongoing discussions between the Australian Government and the governments of each overseas live export trading partner about improving animal welfare.

Committee members argued that Australia's active involvement in the live animal export trade put the country in a better position to make changes in the industry, rather than banning the trade.

The committee recommended the Federal Government develop an assistance package to cover identifiable and irrecoverable financial costs incurred as a result of the temporary suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia.

Initially, it is likely this would involve setting up a system for documenting losses sustained by individuals, with a view to providing future compensation.

The committee also called for the Federal Government to encourage financial institutions to support repayment of loans and be flexible with fines for late payments for those affected by the export bans.

Other recommendations included:

·Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and LiveCorp ensuring OIE performance standards are developed and implemented for the Mark IV restraint box;

·The chief veterinary officer oversee regular assessment of standards for the Mark IV restraint box, effectiveness of implementation and impact on animal welfare;

·Clarification of what information will be made public about compliance with the supply chain assurance system;

·The Federal Government and Australian livestock industry continuing to pursue a mandatory, national, permanent lifetime livestock traceability system; and

·A review of the responsibilities of industry peak bodies to clarify lines of authority and communication within industry.

Senate rural affairs committee member and WA senator Chris Back said the Gillard Government had three months to respond to the report's recommendations, through Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig.

Mr Back said the Greens and Senator Xenophon would decide whether to proceed with their individual Bills in the Senate. Similar legislation calling for a halt to the live export trade has failed in the House of Representatives.

Mr Back said the senate committee's recommendation for more high-level, government-to-government contact with Australia's live export trading partners was important to the WA livestock industry in light of the introduction of OIE code standards in markets other than Indonesia in 2012.

He said there was deep concern in the local livestock export industry that the Indonesian Government felt aggrieved about the lack of Australian Government consultation about new supply chain standards and this was likely to be the case in other markets, including the Middle East.

Mr Back said Australia was the only viable supplier of live cattle into Indonesia, so it was unlikely market share would be lost as a result of the new standards.

But he said Australia was one of many suppliers of live cattle and sheep to the Middle East and the Federal Government would need to work hard to convince Gulf countries of the value of the new supply chain requirements, or risk losing market share.

"If we lose our capacity with live exports to the Middle East, we will also lose our markets for chilled product there and all the work that has been done by the industry to improve the live trade will be lost," he said.

WA Livestock Exporters Association chairman John Edwards said an Australian Government delegation visiting the Middle East this week was understood to be providing documentation about new supply chain standards, but it appeared this did not cover precise requirements for next year.

He said the Government's dialogue with Middle Eastern livestock importing countries had been incomplete to date and it urgently needed to improve communication about new regulations in the local language and at a government-to-government level, or risk limiting future live exports from Australia and hurting farmers' bottom lines.

Mr Edwards said before the introduction of OIE supply chain requirements in Indonesia, there were more than 100 livestock slaughtering facilities operating. Now there were less than 30.

"If you transfer those statistics to the Middle East, this could have a significant impact on levels of business," he said.

"And Indonesia will not return to taking more than 650,000 head of live cattle from Australia until more approved supply chain systems are in place."

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam agreed it was important that the Federal Government maintained talks with livestock importing countries about new supply chain standards.

He praised WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman for his efforts to inform markets in Indonesia and South East Asia about supply chain requirements, but said the Federal Government could be more proactive.

"In many Middle East countries, government-to-government contact is an important part of their culture and these countries require more reassurance and information about new trade standards," he said.

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