THE live export trade to Bahrain - suspended since August 2012 - is set to recommence, says Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
The live sheep trade to Bahrain was voluntarily suspended by the Australian industry in August 2012, after Bahrain rejected a load of 22,000 Australian sheep due to concerns about scabby mouth.
The eventual brutal cull of the animals in Pakistan provoked outrage among animal welfare activists and prompted the voluntary suspension, which has now been lifted by the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC).
Mr Joyce welcomed the industry’s decision, saying: "Exporters can now work to re-establish Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) supply chains to restart the trade ... I appreciate this may take some time yet, but am hopeful trade will start to flow soon."
ESCAS is set to be reviewed with a report due in July, according to recommendations stemming from Bill Farmer’s extensive 2011 report into the live export industry.
At the height of demand Bahrain was one of Australia's most important markets, taking up to 500,000 sheep a year.
The Australian government has been working with Bahrain to develop new animal health requirements following the August 2012 incident, and Mr Joyce said exports can recommence following agreement between the two governments on health protocols.
Under the new health protocol, Bahrain has provided specific assurances on that disease and the Bahraini Cabinet has also provided assurances about the unloading of Australian sheep.
ALEC chief executive officer Alison Penfold said the restart of trade with Bahrain will provide a boost to sheep producers in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and NSW.
“Exporters have been working diligently over the past 18 months to establish suitable conditions on which the sheep trade could recommence with Bahrain”, Ms Penfold said.
Bahrain has been an important market for Australian live sheep exports in the past. In 2011 the market imported 400,000 Australian sheep, and close to 2500 cattle.
"This will be great news for Australian sheep producers, particularly those in Western Australia where most live sheep for export are sourced," Mr Joyce said.
Mr Joyce also announced a change to the policy initiated by the previous Labor government which required Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) to be negotiated with all overseas markets before Australian livestock can be exported. MoUs were first introduced into the livestock export trade in 2004 but the policy was expanded by Labor in July 2013 to include all new livestock markets.
“I have decided to reverse this decision - trade can go ahead in new markets without an MoU," Mr Joyce said.
"Where there is already an MoU we are not walking away from it, we are just saying we don't need MoUs in new markets. This is another sign of the Coalition reducing Labor’s red tape.
“MoUs have mixed success as they are statements of intent between governments and are not legally binding. Most export markets receiving Australian livestock do not have MoUs in place.”
Ms Penfold said a return to the Bahrain market would be a boost for producers struggling with the compound effects of drought and live export bans.
“A return to Bahrain will provide an additional market for sheep producers, particularly those in the west who have really suffered in recent years. We all remember the overnight drop of 50 per cent in sheep prices when a temporary stop was put to exports to the Middle East 18 months ago," she said.
"Those who oppose the trade have no doubt never experienced that sort of economic pain and damage and many small, mostly family run farm businesses are still hurting.
“The Australian livestock export trade has a strong future and re-engagement with Bahrain is important to the industry’s sustainability and profitability."
Bahraini Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Minister Dr Juma Al Ka'abi told the Gulf Daily News this week that a delegation would be "sent Down Under next month" to oversee the anticipated first shipment.
"We are going to be sending our team of vets hopefully within two weeks, but it depends on the date of importation from the company," he said.
Bahrain has been hit with a series of meat shortages since the suspension of trade with Australia in 2012.