AUSTRALIA’S biggest live sheep exporter Emanuel Exports had its licence cancelled by the independent regulator last week, after what it described as a “thorough investigation and show cause process”.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), which doubles as the independent regulator, handed down its decision on August 21 in accordance with the requirements of the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997.
It said it had “taken action against this company in the best interests of the industry and for the protection of Australia’s high standards of animal welfare and health”.
“Cancellation of licence is a serious step and is not one taken lightly,” DAWR said.
“The department is satisfied that this is the most appropriate response.”
The decision was handed down at the 11th hour, 60 days after the initial suspension of the company’s licence in June, which has seen the industry encapsulated in a fog of uncertainty and concern.
The WA-based company shipped more than one million sheep to the Middle East in 2017, making up more than 80 per cent of the trade out of WA, and without its presence in the industry sheep producers will likely lose a market for their wethers, despite other exporters still being able to trade, as well as experiencing less competition for their stock and reduced prices.
No shipment of sheep has left Fremantle Port for 10 weeks – and it is unlikely that any will go until late September/October due to the new requirements that have been put in place by the adoption of the McCarthy Review recommendations by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
Emanuel Exports was still hopeful that it would be able to resume trading, with director Nicholas Daws saying the company would “appeal this decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal”.
“Emanuels is a leading exporter of Australian livestock and we will appeal this notice as a matter of priority,” Mr Daws said.
Prior to the licence cancellation a company spokesperson said they had co-operated fully with DAWR’s investigation and supplied all the required documents to assist investigators.
The suspension of Emanuel Exports licence has been a major blow to its Kuwaiti importer, Al Mawashi or Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading.
Its WA-based branch, Rural Export and Trading (RETWA), has confirmed it is seeking an export licence – which it hopes will be accepted in the next week or so – even though it will likely trade at a loss initially.
RETWA general manager Mike Gordon said the licence submission process usually took up to 40 days, but he was hopeful that DAWR would treat the application as a matter of priority.
Mr Gordon said the issue was a matter of food security to the Kuwaiti company, which is majority government-owned.
Its two livestock vessels, the Al Shuwaikh and the Al Messilah, have been waiting off the coast of Fremantle for the all clear to continue supplying Kuwait and other Persian Gulf States and have been idle since June.
Mr Gordon hoped that a shipment could be put together within a month, given the necessary approvals.
The last consignment left Fremantle on June 6 and the licence suspension of Emanuel Exports and its subsequent cancellation had “crippled the company in Kuwait”.
He said the current halt to the trade had been like a “death by a thousand cuts” to the business and was the “worst (he’d) seen the trade” in his 37 years with the company.
“With the current climate there’s little reason for optimism,” Mr Gordon said.
He said Al Mawashi was committed to the trade, and would have exported at a loss if able, due to its investments in a new $110 million state-of-the-art livestock vessel to be launched next year, as well as $70 million spent on a new closed-loop abattoir in Kuwait, which was “ready to go, but had nothing to do”.
“It was very unfortunate timing,” Mr Gordon said.
“There has been no throughput in the feedlot (in Baldivis) and we are still paying local wages and bills.”
The 60,000 head of sheep which were quarantined at the feedlot prior to export have all been sold to local processors.
“Al Mawashi has been looking at other markets to source from but we can’t do it overnight – although we can do it,” he said.
“With the lack of certainty about the future of the trade it would be crazy not to look elsewhere.”
He said KLTT had been “tied to Australia for so long” that it had a whole of supply chain set up.
“We are open for business but with the conditions imposed most operators couldn’t operate commercially,” Mr Gordon said.
“KLTT would have shipped even at a loss in the short-term.”
“There’s no one to ship otherwise.
“No exporter would want to touch it.”
In the past five years the business has conducted 78 voyages from Australia to the Arabian Gulf on its own vessels with an average mortality rate of 0.6 per cent.
During the week the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), WAFarmers and Sheep Producers Australia expressed “confidence in the decision to cancel the licence of Emanuel Exports”.
In a joint statement NFF president Fiona Simson said “from the beginning we have called for the regulator to be robust and transparent in enforcing the regulation governing the operation of exporters and the protection of animal welfare and health”.
“It is a step forward to rebuilding the trust of farmers and all Australians and to securing the future of the trade,” Ms Simson said.
WAFarmers president Tony York said livestock exports were a crucial component of WA’s sheep industry and without it, sheep numbers would decline dramatically, hurting farmers, regional communities and the workers and businesses that make up the value chain.
“Fortunately, the trade remains open and we look forward to working with other exporters to enable its resumption,” Mr York said.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) president Tony Seabrook has expressed his extreme disappointment over the cancellation of the export licence, saying there were “no winners in the decision, except for those animal activist groups determined to see the end of all live exports”.
“The repercussions to the Western Australian livestock industry of removing Australia’s largest exporter of sheep are widespread,” Mr Seabrook said.
“Removing our largest exporter from our key markets only serves to destroy an industry which provides much-needed jobs, supports regional businesses and communities, and provides a strong livelihood for thousands of WA farming families.”
Mr Seabrook said the removal of Emanuel Exports from the market would only lead to an overstocking of pastures, a loss of trade to the Middle East and a future drop in prices.
“It is pure folly to believe otherwise and that the other exporters and processors will be able to take up the surplus stock,” he said.
“Eighty per cent of the sheep export trade has now been knocked out, thanks to the actions of a group of faceless bureaucrats in Canberra and a minister who is indifferent to the impact of such a decision on WA sheep producers.
“Western Australian livestock producers, their families and their communities deserve better.”
The RSPCA has welcomed the cancellation of Emanuel Exports licence but said “removing one leading exporter is not enough to protect animals or farmers from the cruelty and volatility of live export”.
RSPCA Australia senior policy officer Jed Goodfellow said the organisation was waiting on confirmation of the permanent cancellation or otherwise of the two other licences associated with Emanuel Exports’ partner corporations, EMS Rural exports and International Livestock Exports (ILE).
Dr Goodfellow said the RSPCA remained “concerned there has been no indication of what improvements will apply from October onwards, following the highest-risk Middle Eastern summer period”, especially in regards to stocking density.