AUSTRALIA's monopoly of the live sheep market to Saudi Arabia has been broken, following agreement between trade officials from Saudi Arabian and Sudan which allow Sudan to recommence live sheep and meat exports to Saudi Arabia.
According to Meat and Livestock Australia, Sudan officials believe they will export up to 600,000 head, worth an estimated US$40 million, before the Haj festival, which begin on February 22.
Within a year Sudan could export up to two million sheep which would compete directly with Australian livestock.
WA Live Exporters Association chairman Alastair Moore said thatthere would be some affect on WA.
However, it was expected to be minimal due to reduced sheep numbers and the improving wool market.
"There will be some effect but it will not be as pronounced as if we had larger numbers of sheep," he said.
"Our numbers are so low the market will stay strong.
"I also think there is quite a big demand for wool growers to put sheep back in the paddock and that will have an affect on sheep export numbers."
"This year will be a lot tougher in sourcing stock," Mr Moore said.
Statistics indicated that up until November last year 1.7 million sheep were exported to Saudi Arabia with WA accounting for about 70pc which is normally about WA's proportion for all Australia's live sheep exports.
However, last year this figure had dropped to about 62pc.
Mr Moore said that when the Saudi market re-opened about 18 months ago WA had been the main beneficiary however, the eastern States had also sold their share.
He believed Australia would feel the financial impact of Sudan entering the Saudi market in the second quarter after demand for the Haj had subsided.
This week WA was sending out 400,000 long tailed lambs for the Haj, which had a one million-head requirement.
The Saudi market accounted for almost 30 per cent of all live sheep exports last year.
However, Saudi authorities have been concerned about the shortage of stock available from Australia, and the resulting high prices they have been forced to pay for export sheep.
That prompted the development of export protocols with Sudan, which had previously been banned from supplying the Saudi market due to the existence of Rift Valley Fever in its flock.
While the entry of Sudan into the market would place pressure on prices, demand from Saudi Arabia could easily absorb the increased numbers, according to MLA market analyst Peter Weeks.
He said Saudi Arabia had been importing 5-7 million sheep a year before imposing import bans.
"It is certainly going to have an impact here, there is no doubt about that."