THE Middle East may be the centre for world conflict, but according to Austrade senior trade commiss

25 Oct, 2006 08:45 PM

Playing a vital role in feeding the population, during conflict or calm, are the ships carrying live cattle and sheep from Australia.

Live export markets are also proving crucial during record dry weather patterns across Australia.

The markets have thrown producers a lifeline and stock is being sold rather than perishing on barren properties.

Mr Linford predicted the Middle East would see a larger demand for consumables like Australian beef and lamb.

³I tend to think they will move more to cut beef, rather than frozen or chilled in the near future,² he said.

Lamb would be the dominant red meat because of the socio-structure and culture of the Middle East, Mr Linford said.

³There is also a strong desire across the region to slaughter the animals in their own country,² he said.

The halal market remained extremely important in the region.

³This is one area we have done well in and we are recognised in the region,² Mr Linford said.

³Many see Australia as a preferred supplier and they like our quality.²

Mr Linford said he could also see improving regulations and uniformity in animal welfare throughout the Gulf regions.

But some Middle Eastern countries are lagging, according to Mr Linford.

³I think disparity and how some governments work in the region will make it difficult,² Mr Linford said.

The Arab nations harbour some of the biggest wealth in the world, generated from few commodities other than oil.

Growth domestic products of $1 trillion are common in the Gulf regions, where 90pc of everything consumed is imported.

Mr Linford predicted a general increase in trade to the Middle East and said countries like Turkey, Algeria and Iran were emerging as new markets.

Iran has a ban on importing American products.

³It is an opportunity where we can do business where Americans are not allowed,² Mr Linford said.

Egypt had received negative publicity as a result of the 60 Minutes television coverage of the cattle live export industry, but Mr Linford said the country had moved forward.

³Attitudes have changed and there are reforms coming in,² he said.

Mr Linford applauded WA Agriculture Minister Kim Chance and the Agriculture Department for work done in the Middle East on building relations and raising industry regulations and awareness.

³They have visited and had more genuine input and activity into the market than any minister at federal or state level that I have experienced,² Mr Linford said.

³What we have found at seminars with vets and our counterpart ministries of agriculture and trade is that they are seeing greater integrity and quality assurance.²

While the fighting continues in Iraq, 80 Australian compa-nies have already done business there in the past two years.

Mr Linford said 18 of those companies had never exported outside of Australia.

³Iraq is a country where a lot of people are scared to go into, but as long as you have the right support mechanisms, you can get in there and do business well,² he said.

But the Middle East was div-erse, where consumer tastes, demographics, religion and pol-itics all played a role in dicta-ting markets, Mr Linford said.

A region like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was affluent, with a large expatriate population, he said.

³It has a greater sophistica-tion of food tastes and greater presentation with international chefs,² Mr Linford said. ³I see that trend spreading across the region, particularly as tourism grows.²

A multi free-trade agreement with Middle Eastern countries was now being discussed as a result of the booming economies.

Meanwhile, religious festivals in the Middle East have made it difficult for exporters to ship live bulls.

Sheep shipments are peaking with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coming to an end and the Hajj religious festival soon to begin.

Livestock shipping services live-stock coordinator Paul Keenan said the difficult season had also meant many farmers were offloading their stock and there were just not enough boats to export all of the bulls.

"We are still committed to all contract cattle but there is a lot of demand for shipping at this time of the year,² he said.

"Once the festival is over live bull export should pick up."



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