AGRICULTURE Minister Warren Truss will travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Eritrea, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan this week to strengthen negotiations on Australia's livestock export trade to the Middle East.
Mr Truss plans to meet with his counterparts in the UAE and Kuwait to thank them for their efforts in signing recent Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) on the live animal trade.
Similar MoUs are being negotiated with other countries in the Middle East and Africa, including the long-anticipated Saudi Arabian MoU, which is in its final stage of negotiation.
"I will meet with Saudi Arabian Agriculture Minister Dr Fahad bin Abdulrahman Balghunaim to discuss finalising a similar MoU between our two countries," Mr Truss said.
"These negotiations are in their final stages, and the promise of live exports resuming will provide a significant boost to Australia's $700 million industry."
Mr Truss said the MoU with Saudi Arabia would need to include assurances that, should there be a dispute about a shipment, the livestock will be unloaded into a quarantine facility while the issues are resolved.
"A high priority of my visit will be pressing ahead with negotiations with other trading partners in the region and building on Australian initiatives to improve animal welfare in the livestock export trade to the Middle East," he said.
"I look forward to meeting Jordan's new Agriculture Minister, Dr Yousef Shreiqi, and the opportunity to outline Australian efforts to improve the security of the live export supply chain and our resolve to remain a competitive supplier of meat and live animal exports."
Live sheep exports to Jordan reached 293,383 head in January, which is the highest monthly total to this destination since recent records began in 1989, and represented 70 per cent of all sheep exported in January.
Australian live sheep exports to Jordan have increased dramatically since the halting of all sheep shipments to Saudi Arabia in August 2003.
One million Australian sheep have been exported to Jordan in the last 12 months to January 2005, a 67 per cent increase on the 630,124 head exported in the previous 12 month period.
Reports from the Middle East suggest that livestock supplies of both sheep and cattle are tightening significantly in the region, with prices reportedly increasing to levels similar to Australian livestock prices.
Mr Truss said he would also travel to Eritrea to meet with Agriculture Minister Arefaine Berhe, who visited Australia in late August 2004.
"The relationship between the Australian and Eritrean agriculture sectors has developed significantly following that country's acceptance of the livestock on board the MV Cormo Express in 2003," Mr Truss said.
"Both countries have similar climates, and Australia has a wealth of expertise that can help Eritrea successfully tackle the challenges of dryland farming in a country still grateful for the legacy of Professor Fred Hollows and other Australian aid."