MIDDLE Eastern countries have different traditions to Australia but have been “greatly offended” by the “finger pointing” they’ve received over live exports in recent times, according to Western Australian agricultural regional MLC Paul Brown.
He said some of these export markets, such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, have been good long-term friends of Australia.
“They’ve lived up to the memoranda of understanding they’ve signed with the Australian government and been unwavering in their support during crucial times like during the Cormo Express events,” he said.
“More recently, during events with Bahrain and Pakistan, they have suffered vitriolic finger pointing, with many people calling them barbarians.
“But through these events, these Middle East countries have maintained a strong relationship with the Australian government and industry, and we as a country, and certainly our government, must acknowledge they’ve been tremendous friends and partners and right now we’re not giving them the respect they are due.
“After discussions with producers and exporters in WA that service the Saudi and Middle East markets, they’re very concerned that a lack of focus has come about and the Middle East has potentially been put into the too-hard basket, rather than applying some bureaucratic and political pressure, to open those markets.”
Mr Brown said what he’d been hearing anecdotally from a range of sources was that the lack of opportunity and focus on Middle East markets - where many large and medium-sized exporters have traditionally supplied sheep, cattle and goats - has ramped up pressure on the Vietnam market.
“Since the introduction of ESCAS (Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System), and the unwillingness by some countries, especially Saudi, to accept the full suite of ESCAS regulations, we’ve seen many of these exporters move away from markets in the Middle East and focus on South East Asia,” he said.
“Indonesia is a fantastic market but there’s been an over-supply into Vietnam and many importers that don’t have markets left in the Middle East - or it’s too hard to get those markets up and running - are now looking at an easier export destination into Vietnam.
“But there’s a massive over-supply into Vietnam and anyone who says that’s not happening is wrong and very mistaken in their opinion because we’re continually hearing about large leakage out of the system over the border into China.
“And what that does is stop the development of the industry into China through the front door.
“The industry and government have put a lot of work into starting up a preview industry through the front door and we’ve done a free trade agreement with China.
“But leakage out of the system in Vietnam, along the Mekong and out the back door into China, makes it extremely hard to develop the premium industry through the front door.”
Ongoing export challenges
Mr Brown said before entering the WA parliament he worked in the live export industry with his business interests and believed challenges have always existed to control the destination and welfare outcomes for exported stock.
“I think we’ve done a very good job in a range of markets implementing stronger welfare controls in partnership with destination countries,” he said.
“Vietnam is very much a challenge at the moment and a cultural shift is needed.
“They’ve always supplied cattle into China but we have to give the export industry a reason to remove that leakage and show they can be trusted.
“I do trust the live exporters know how to operate correctly and know what the challenges are in those markets and therefore there has to be a partnership with industry and government.”
Last week, federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said he had held discussions with Chinese officials about finalising a deal to open up live cattle exports to China.
Last November, reports indicated that the long-running negotiations between the two countries over bluetongue virus were on the verge of being resolved to open the way for exports of feeder and slaughter cattle into China.
China already sources Australian dairy and beef cows for breeding purposes, buying more than 78,000 head of dairy cattle and about 15,000 beef cattle in the 2013 financial year.
Mr Joyce said following his talks last week he didn’t want to put a time limit on a resolution.
But he said he was “extremely favourably disposed that it’s going to be in the very near future in fact closer than I expected”.
“I don’t want to discuss a private conversation at this point but it’s very close,” he said.
Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) CEO Jed Matz said achieving an agreement on a health protocol with China would be great for producers and increase competition for cattle in Australia.
“It adds another buyer in the market and we hope they can complete the requirements soon, including for ESCAS,” he said.
“They need to negotiate an outcome on the health protocols - that’s what we’re waiting to be signed off – and we can only wait until they’re comfortable.”
Last week, CCA president Howard Smith also welcomed finalisation of the free trade agreement Australia and China (ChAFTA), signed between the two countries in Canberra, saying it was a major milestone for the Australian beef industry.
“China continues to be an essential market for Australian beef, having doubled its imports over the past six years,” he said.
“The flow through benefits of ChAFTA will input an annual gross value of $270 million towards the Australian beef industry which should flow into farm gate prices.”
CCA said the ChAFTA was proposed to be in force in late 2015 providing tariff cuts of 12-25 per cent on beef products and live animals.