THE suspension of Australia's live exports to Saudi Arabia would not be lifted quickly, according to WA Livestock Exporters Association chairman Alastair Moore.
He said the protocol on which the trade had been restarted two years ago ‹ after being closed for 10 years ‹ was unlikely to be adopted again.
"You can't afford to have livestock floating around without a destination and unfortunately that's been a history of the live trade with Saudi Arabia," he said.
"I would be surprised if the Federal Government would not want something in writing before they opened it up again."
The protocol for resuming live exports to Saudi Arabia three years ago included six trial shipments with a requirement for younger sheep and a second scabby mouth vaccination shortly before departure.
There was also an acceptable scabby mouth threshold of 5pc.
After initial trial shipments, the trade began running smoothly until about three weeks ago when the Saudis rejected an Australian shipment, claiming scabby mouth levels were 6pc, 1pc above the accepted level.
The big issue now was how to find a replacement market for the 600,000-700,000 Australian sheep already forward contracted for the Haj. About two-thirds of this number were from WA.
Mr Moore said prices could start easing soon because of the suspension and while other live markets could be found for all the contracted sheep, it might not be necessary because lamb was making good money on the domestic market.
He did not expect forward contracts to be sorted for another week or two.
The re-opening of the Saudi trade two years ago helped push up export numbers to more than 6m sheep last year and the year before.
However, the closure of the Saudi market could also have a positive side because there would be fewer shipments from Portland and therefore fewer deaths.
It's uncertain what caused the Saudi standoff, although speculation was rife.
The recent 60 Minutes program focusing on animal welfare in the Middle East, high sheep prices and Australia's support of the US in Iraq were just a few possibilities.
There was also understood to be a change of veterinarians at Jeddah.
According to one industry source, there was no overwhelming love of Australia in the region, particularly in light of Australia's involvement in the Iraq war.