ESCAS is hurting us say Saudi importers

28 Mar, 2013 01:00 AM

TWO of Saudi Arabia's largest livestock importers have backed Australia's livestock exporters in saying a one-size-fits-all approach to the controversial Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) does not work.

Travelling with the Saudi Agriculture Minister Dr Fahd Balghunaim during his tour to Australia last week, prominent Saudi livestock importers, Sheikh Suleiman Al Jabri and Sheikh Hamood Al Khalaf, said while they supported the animal welfare outcomes ESCAS delivered, Saudi religious law and cultural values demanded food animals be cared for and processed humanely.

Both importers control a large percentage of the Kingdom's livestock imports

"Importing animals and keeping livestock well fed, watered and in good health and condition is the focus of our businesses in the Kingdom and the measure by which our operations are sustainable," Mr Al Jabri said.

"Why wouldn't we take first class care of our shipments, we pay tens of millions of dollars to bring large consignments from Australia and like your farmers, poor performing animals and mortalities are a cost to the business that we can ill afford."

Australian live exporters have argued since the Bill Farmer Review was released, that the model designed for the Indonesian live cattle trade could not be simply put into Middle Eastern markets.

Mr Al Khalaf agreed and said having imported sheep and cattle from Australia since the 1970s he had experienced the highs of Australian sheep prices as an importer and the lows as a sheep producer.

Mr Al Khalaf owns a number of farms and feedlots in South Australia.

He said he had firsthand experience of the significant decline in sheep and cattle prices to his operation since the introduction of ESCAS.

He said ESCAS had curtailed any hope of him bringing Australian livestock back to Saudi Arabia in the short term.

Mr Khalaf was dismayed at the attitude of the Australian Government saying that it was jeopardising trade relations with major buyers of Australian livestock and forcing them to seek supplies elsewhere in the world when they have a preference for Australian sheep and cattle only.

Saudi Agriculture Minister Dr Fahd Balghunaim admitted last week the country was already sourcing livestock from other countries as a result of Australia's ESCAS.

Both Saudi importers have offices in Australia and have consistently relayed the message back through them saying the ESCAS model is flawed.

"Due to a complete lack of understanding by Australian bureaucrats of the livestock marketing and distribution systems that exist in the Kingdom, if your government truly understood the complexity of our market and the many layers that exist within a supply chain, then they would understand how much effect ESCAS has on an importers' ability to carry out business successfully and profitably," Mr Al Khalaf said.

Mr Al Jabri said it appeared the Australian Government was asking Saudi importers for regulatory accountability that it does not ask of its own producers and abattoirs in Australia.

"Your ESCAS requirement comes at a very heavy cost to our business in Saudi Arabia and if the same was imposed on your producers a similar backlash would be experienced I am sure," he said.

"If Bill Farmer had come to Saudi Arabia in July 2011 as part of his review of Middle East live export markets he would have experienced this first hand.

"Why Bill Farmer did not visit Saudi Arabia when the Australian Government commissioned its Live Export Industry Review midway through 2011 is still perplexing."

Recent statistics show livestock exports to Saudi are well down on previous years.

Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has continued to say the downturn was due to rising sheep prices and the high Australian dollar, but Saudi importers disagreed.

They said an investment into larger livestock vessels to suit Australian export standards and delays in construction, along with the availability of other shipping, were the key issues.

This exercise alone was an indication of the country's faith in the Australian livestock market potential with investments of more than $140 million.

Mr Al Jabri and Mr Al Khalaf have both said discussions in Perth last week were cordial but clear.

"The bottom line is there is nothing on the Saudi side preventing livestock trade between us and Australia," Mr Al Jabri said.

"The Saudi Government is particularly proud of the Memorandum of Understanding that exists between the two countries.

"In fact Australia is the only country in the world that such an agreement has been forged with and in combination with the Kingdom being a signatory to OIE, the Saudi government and its importers believe these assurances are pivotal towards reaching an agreement on how best to recommence trade."

WA Livestock Exporters Association (WALEA) chairman John Edwards said it was completely understandable the Saudi Government had reacted with such frankness to ESCAS.

"But what is most disappointing and frustrating is that Australian exporters were advising the government of the same roadblocks existing in the face of any discussion and negotiation on ESCAS for the last 20 months and these have been largely ignored," Mr Edwards said.

"As a result of the joint Saudi Government and business delegation, these issues are now firmly on the table before the Australian Government in the words of the Saudis, so there is no denying (the issues) now."

Mr Edwards said that he hoped the trade impasses were negotiable and considered the first step to be extensive dialogue with the Saudi Government as a means to regaining its confidence in Australia as a reliable and consistent trading partner.

"Saudi Arabia imported eight million sheep, goats, cattle and camels last year from 15 different sources," Mr Edwards said.

"This alone indicates the size of the market and the significant potential it presents for WA sheep and cattle producers.

"With the depressed state of both the sheep and cattle industries, an injection of additional overseas buyers to the marketplace would undoubtedly create increased demand and with it a much needed lift in prices for producers."

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28/03/2013 4:28:41 AM, on The Land

My Goodness, this just made what Senator Ludwig and Luke Bowen from the NTCA said about ESCAS a heap of BS. Is the NCTA under the control of the Federal Government???? Surely what our customers think is more important than the continued Government and NTCA spin!!
The Serf
28/03/2013 7:19:45 AM, on The Land

Lets put this into perspective; here we have Government and a Minister who has extended the arm of the Australian Government to “Prescribed” Licensed Live Export Companies to apply, enforce and administer a set of Australian Government Regulations, on behalf of the Australian Government under the Export Control Act, an Australian statute, to extend that Regulation so that it controls business and the internal affairs of a foreign country(s), inside that foreign country(s), way outside of the territorial limits of Australia. Free Trade must be reinstated in the live ex trade immediately.
28/03/2013 9:04:36 AM, on The Land

The only reason the Saudis won't accept ESCAS is because they want to be able to on-sell Australian animals to other coutnries at massive profit. These are people who practise female circumcision, deal with thieves by crucufuxion or chopping off limbs and bury women in sand and stone them to death. And we want to give them animals? Even as meaningless as ESCAS is, if it keeps the Saudis out of the market that's a great thing. One less horror destination for our traumatised, brutalised animals. Everyone involved in this filthy trade should have their heads in shame.
28/03/2013 9:22:28 AM, on The Land

It seems clear from the comments by Mr Al Jabri that he fails to understand that we have animal welfare laws in this country...which meet OIE. Saudi on the other hand have nothing to protect animals from routine get your facts straight. EAT our chilled product and dont bother us again.
Send it boxed or not at all.
28/03/2013 9:24:29 AM, on The Land

And animal welfare MUST be observed. Sorry The Serf, cant have it both ways. Animal welfare is a MAJOR worldwide issue, accepted that you dont give a damn. Send it boxed or not at all.
28/03/2013 6:09:33 PM, on Queensland Country Life

Too right, if the very basic levels of protection from cruelty offered by ESCAS are too much to ask of the Saudis then so be it. Find another supplier.
Will from Bordertown
29/03/2013 4:27:50 AM, on Farm Weekly

That's right Nicky, all Australian meat workers are overflowing with the milk of human kindness, just ask an Inghams turkey. To say that one race of people is more humane than another is racist.
Hilda Hereford
30/03/2013 6:49:40 AM, on The Land

Animal and human welfare in other countries will never be controlled by Australians, if you think you can please go over there and do it. People that think they can starve other counties into submission need to think about what they are trying to achieve. Funny comments from some really, the SERF is attacked on animal welfare issues, but wasn't saying that animal welfare should be ignored, and he/she didn't say that he didn't give a dman about animal welfare. However these fanatics that comment on this site like to put words in others mouths.
Just a producer
30/03/2013 7:40:53 AM, on North Queensland Register

If another option was available, such as a large Northern Processor we wouldn't have this issue. If this is such a pressing priority for activists perhaps instead of negativity maybe they should be creating & contributing towards a new local processor. The entire industry is on the brink, a local processor cannot be industry funded now, fat cows for 10c/kg this week. Time for activists & gov to feel some pain aswell. Don't whinge about the horror of the trade put the energy to providing the solution. Try being Pro More Local Processing not Anti Live Export, easier means to an end.
30/03/2013 12:07:44 PM, on The Land

I find it amazing that people would put the dollar before Animal welfare. The only way to be sure our animals are treated right is to process them here and send them out in a carton, this will also provide many Australians with much needed jobs.
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