A MAJOR WA-based live export company representative has hit out at the Federal Government's apparent lack of support for trade in the Middle East.
Livestock Shipping Services general manager Dr Neil Buchanan, who spoke at the Agriculture Department's recent inaugural agribusiness Meat Research Forum, also questioned Australian Government policy in the region.
He said Ireland's live cattle export trade to Egypt, which ended as a result of BSE, could be re-opened within a year due to intense lobbying by Irish politicians (cases of BSE are still being reported in Ireland).
Dr Buchanan said Ireland's Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh was visiting Egypt every second month to try to find ways of reopening the trade, which may be attempted through BSE testing on individual cattle after slaughter in Egypt.
The results would be required before meat was released for consumption.
"We, collectively, through our government, should be far more pro-active in sourcing and protecting the markets once we have got them," Dr Buchanan said.
"Our competitors are much more active."
Dr Buchanan said Ireland would undoubtedly use subsidies to regain its Egyptian market through EU restitution payments of up to 50pc. "You can be sure they will heavily subsidise to get back in a big way," he said.
The BSE related demise of Ireland's US$140 million live cattle trade to Egypt had boosted WA's live cattle exports to the point where Egypt was now the state's largest single market, valued at $83m.
Dr Buchanan, who was Meat and Livestock Australia's Middle Eastern livestock services manager for seven years, said ways of competing with Ireland could be through using larger ships and becoming more integrated into markets.
He said WA's broad base of live cattle export markets was also a saving grace.
"Ireland's re-entry to Egypt is certainly nothing to cry about, it's just that people have to be aware there is a range of markets out there and that exporters don't yet have the full answer to some of them," he said.
Dr Buchanan said there was potential to supply up to 100,000 head of cattle to Libya each year if Australia was prepared to recognise the Libyan Government.
"It's a little bit unfortunate that we are following the US line and keeping ourselves out of a potentially large market," he said.
More than 100,000 head of WA live cattle, valued at $57m, were exported to Libya in 1997/98.
Dr Buchanan also said was a perception in the Middle East that Iraq had been punished enough and that it was time for the United Nations to lift trade sanctions.
He said total trade to the Middle East was estimated at half-a-billion dollars.
pMore reports on pages 10-11.