THE Australian live export industry could no longer claim to be a $1 billion industry, after 2003-04 financial year figures for sheep and cattle exports
declined by one third.
Live cattle export numbers in 2003-04 plummeted 33pc and 24pc in value, while sheep export numbers fell by 34pc and 36pc in value on the previous year.
The value of live cattle and live sheep exported for 2003-04 was $728 million compared to $1b in 2002-03.
Drops of about 30pc were recorded in all of Australia's major live cattle markets including Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. The Egyptian market was all but gone with just 2888 in 2003-04, a 100,000 head decline on 2002-03.
The only live cattle markets to show significant increases in 2003-04 were China and Jordan, with Japan and Israel showing slight increases.
Reasons for the fall in exports to South East Asian markets included higher cattle prices, an appreciating dollar, and competition from Indian buffalo beef.
Meat and Livestock Australia, which compiled the Australian Bureau of Statistics data, says an extended wet season led to higher than usual monthly cattle exports to Indonesia for the months of May and June.
However, cattle exports were expected to fall to Indonesia for the second half of this year due to high cattle prices.
Indonesia received 49pc of all Australia's live cattle exports in 2003-04, which were slightly down from 52pc the previous financial year.
The big decline in live sheep exports was mainly due to last year's suspension of the Saudi Arabian live sheep market, which received only 184,728 Australian sheep in 2003-04 compared to 2.25m sheep and 52,661 cattle in 2002-03.
In contrast there were increased sheep exports to Bahrain and Jordan.
Kuwait was the largest live sheep importer in 2003-04 with 1.47m sheep, about 4pc down on the previous year.
Jordan was the second largest live sheep market with 891,762 head, double the year before.
Other reasons for a decline in live sheep exports were similar to falling cattle exports, such as higher prices and an appreciating Australian dollar, which averaged US58 cents in 2002-03 and US71c in 2003-04.
The Australian dollar peaked at US81c in February.
The drought also affected live sheep exports. It tightened supply and increased prices, and was reflected in the reluctance of Middle Eastern butchers to accept the younger and lighter wethers previously taken by Saudi Arabia.