THE return of the Saudi Arabian live sheep trade on a commercial basis is being fast-tracked due to the success of four supervised trial shipments carried out so far. The first of six trial shipments began in January with the view to resuming the trade, however the fifth trial shipment due out of South Australia in mid-September is expected to be the last. Veterinary consultant Tony Brightling, who has been co-ordinating the technical side of the trial shipment program on behalf of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Livecorp, said the trials had gone better than hoped. "We want to fast-track the trials and open up the trade as quick as we can," he said. He said 270,000 head of sheep had so far been sent on four trial shipments. Livecorp chief executive officer Kevin Shiell said industry was trying to ensure a smooth transition to a commercial arrangement of the Saudi live sheep trade. "There are a lot of factors in trying to get arrangements increasingly into a fully commercial basis," he said. "That does not mean any compromise in our quality assurance standards we have put in place." The age of sheep destined for Saudi Arabia have been restricted to no more than two years of age while reduced stocking densities and increasing feed requirements for stock on board ships also applied. Mr Shiell said it was unlikely the trade would move quickly to the levels achieved in the 1980s of 2-3 million sheep a year, particularly in light of lower sheep numbers. "I think it's in everyone's interest to see a modest re-establishment of Saudi trade," he said. "We will probably see an increase in frequency in shipments from September." Mr Shiell said the first commercial shipments would be arranged by established operators, while any new entrants would be monitored as in trial conditions. "Anyone that has been through the process and has demonstrated the ability to purchase and supply sheep to the market will generally be less supervised," he said. Mr Shiell said they were now looking at how to provide product support in Saudi Arabia. He said sheep and meat distribution arrangements also needed to be developed in Saudi Arabia as trade expanded. He said North African and other Arabian countries also supplied the trade. The direct export of sheep to Saudi Arabia was first stopped in 1989 after Australian shipments were rejected due to unacceptable levels of scabby mouth.