While the recent collapse of trade negotiations with the European Union is hugely disappointing for Australian exporters, sadly it is not surprising given our Trade Minister Don Farrell appears disinterested and disengaged. A free trade agreement with the EU was always going to be difficult to land, dealing with 27 member nations that often have disparate views and a long history of protectionism, particularly in their agricultural sectors. In the end it was restrictive quotas on agricultural imports and the insistence that geographical indicators such as Prosecco be restricted to EU producers that forced the Australian Government to walk away from negotiations. Farming organisations such as the National Farmers’ Federation had long flagged concerns that the proposed agreement was a “dud” and farmers would be better off holding out for a better deal. However, the Government now says there will be no more negotiations before the 2025 election. With the time frame to resume negotiations at least two years out, we need this Government and particularly the trade minister to quickly pivot to new opportunities. While Minister Farrell has revelled in the reflected glory of the final sign-off and launch of both the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement and the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, negotiated and signed by former Coalition Trade Minister Dan Tehan, he has failed to deliver any new initiatives in the rapidly evolving international trading environment. At a time when Australian sheep producers are desperate for new markets, Minister Farrell apparently was not consulted and had no input into the Government’s disastrous decision to refuse Qatar Airways’ request for 28 additional flights a week. The decision is estimated to cost the Australian tourism industry up to $788 million a year. And the additional cargo capacity in the holds of the Qatar Airways aircraft would have been a major boon for exports of fresh produce into the Middle East such as chilled meat. On questioning in Senate Estimates last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade admitted the Government had made no progress on free trade negotiations with the Gulf Co-operation Council, comprising six of Australia’s most valued trading partners in the Middle East. At Estimates, Minister Farrell could not even recall a damning letter from the Kuwaiti Minister for Commerce and Industry foreshadowing broader consequences for trade relations with the Middle East if the Labor Government proceeds with its ban on live exports by sea, which are so vital to the food security of these countries. And it would appear that, despite the United Arab Emirates being very motivated to progress a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between our two countries, very little progress has been made on this front. In the broader Mediterranean region, earlier this year the Moroccan Government made overtures to import Australian sheep to protect their own breeding flock after several years of drought, only to receive a muted response from Australian departmental officials that has gone nowhere. Consequently, while Western Australian farmers are beginning to destroy our breeding stock that now have no commercial value, the trade opportunity with a nation of 35 million consumers on the doorstep of Europe goes begging. And with the unfolding crisis in Gaza, recent LiveCorp data suggests that live exports of sheep into Israel have increased four-fold in the past year. Recently, a consignment of 5000 cattle arrived in the Israeli port of Eilat, along with 3000 Western Australian sheep, on the first co-shipment after the northern summer moratorium. It is worth noting that if the Government’s live export ban is implemented it will not be commercially viable to export cattle alone to Israel, meaning there will be an effective ban on the live export of WA cattle as well. Unfortunately, Senate Estimates revealed a trade minister more than happy to hop on a plane to Brussels to compare notes on feta and Prosecco, but who could not be bothered to take a few hours during a stopover in one of the several Middle Eastern flight hubs to meet, and develop bilateral relationships, with some of our longest and most loyal trading and investment partners. Rick Wilson is the Federal Member for the WA electorate of O’Connor, and Australia’s shadow assistant minister for trade.