We want your sheep: Saudi

28 Mar, 2013 01:00 AM

THE Saudi Arabian Agriculture Minister has thrown his support behind Australian livestock exporters and expressed his disappointment at a lack of consultation by the Australian Government before the introduction of the controversial Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

On a recent trip to Australia to discuss various trade opportunities, Dr Fahad AS Balghunaim said the country was not consulted before ESCAS was implemented despite Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig leading a delegation to the Middle East last year to discuss the system.

Dr Balghunaim said he did not accept governments overstepping borders.

"ESCAS is a supply chain process which crosses borders and that is something we do not accept," Dr Balghunaim said.

He said that had been the country's position on the issue from the start and that had been communicated through diplomatic channels to the Auustralian Government.

"We have said whatever observations the Australian Government has we responded to them," he said.

"We in Saudi Arabia have a great ethical and social value on animal welfare.

"We have a strong religious commitment to animal welfare, but that doesn't mean that all our citizens are abiding by our religious teachings or our governmental laws.

"But as a government our policy is extremely clear about animal welfare."

Saudi Arabia was the first country to refuse to accept Australia's enforced ESCAS standards which industry leaders believe has played a major role in the current drop in WA sheep prices.

During the interview with Dr Balghunaim, it was clear his country would continue to refuse the ESCAS standards meaning the livestock trade was unlikely to reopen anytime soon.

But he admitted the trade could reopen if Australia resumed its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Saudi Arabia.

The MOU was signed between the countries in 2005 and updated in 2009.

Dr Balghunaim said the MOU was signed following the strong consultation following the Cormo Express, but this time there was no consultation.

"We sat at the table together after the Cormo Express and we came up with a new MOU," he said.

"In fact it is the first MOU Saudi Arabia had signed with any country.

"And then we were taken into a process (ESCAS) not done through negotiation and that is the difference.

"You cannot put your conditions on your partner, you discuss your conditions with your partner."

Dr Balghunaim did not want to comment on whether the Australian Government had overstepped the mark and their political boundaries by trying to enforce standards on other countries, but believed governments should look after their own borders.

"There are internal politics in every country, but as a government official I cannot overstep my boundary," he said.

"Any communication that relates to Australia has come through our foreign ministry and this is what we have done."

Dr Balghunaim did not reveal what he wanted to see from the Australian Government and said he would make it clear to them behind closed doors, but not in the media.

"We have a great respect for this nation and for its rules," he said.

"We value the trade potential which is much much bigger than it is now, we also value the investment potential which is also much bigger than it is now.

"I hope that whatever obstacles are in place in this process are removed through negotiations and a mutual understanding and respect."

Saudi Arabia had previously imported about1.2 million sheep from Australia, but last year received just 70,000.

Saudi Arabia imported eight million sheep last year and Dr Balghunaim said the country wanted Australian and New Zealand sheep first as they had good sheep with minimal disease.

He said as a result of ESCAS, Saudi Arabia was now sourcing more sheep from countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Uruguay.

Mr Ludwig said the dialogue Australia was having with the Saudi Government was important and was another step in the right direction.

"In last week's meeting there were positive discussions between both governments, and we will both continue to work together on a way forward," Mr Ludwig said.

"That is the crucial issue here.

"Both governments want to find a way forward so that we can continue the trade.

"Saudi, for many years, has not been a major importer of Australian sheep.

"There is a good opportunity to increase the trade and we want to work together with the Saudi Government to do that.

"The live export trade is very important not only for WA but for producers more broadly, and continuing and building on the trade to markets like Saudi is very important to the Australian Government.

"The steps Saudi is taking domestically should be applauded.

"They see the need to address animal welfare and implement their own laws, and it's really good news for the country."

Dr Balghunaim also said he would like to increase the amount of wheat imported from Australia and said there was no limit as to how much they would buy.

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28/03/2013 6:15:46 AM, on The Land

not a supporter of Ludwigs at all but it sounds to me like the good Doctor might be trying to threaten us. So they would like to buy more wheat from us would they ?.....but only if we lighten off on the animal welfare issues. It's the Saudi's that need to clean up their act
28/03/2013 6:40:04 AM, on The Land

Forget sending live sheep, sell them the mutton and put a few jobs in Australia and remove the cruel and corrupted animal transport programs.
28/03/2013 8:52:28 AM, on Queensland Country Life

The saudis have every right to be insulted, this government has made a mockery of "their" laws and sensitivities to animal welfare and the remarkable progress they have made. This government has insulted several nations and spoiled trade agreements that have caused a major hemorage in rural australia, all to appese the sensibilities of a handful of childish, uninvolved opinionators. It's embarrising that Labor is ruining the reputation of our nation for the very radicals 97% of us did NOT vote for because they "are" irational and dangerous. Man up Joe, you are the Minister for Agriculture.
28/03/2013 9:15:01 AM, on The Land

good idea Bullfrog, you might have to buy a ship load of fridges to go with the mutton, that is why they buy live animals
Saudi importers are irrelevant
28/03/2013 9:17:33 AM, on The Land

And they can have our sheep...dead in a box. Australia must tell them not to dictate the terms. We tell those cruel buggers how its going to be.
Jen from the bush
28/03/2013 9:50:25 AM, on Queensland Country Life

If cost of kill for cattle is $350/hd, $150/hd in USA and $35 in Asia, does anyone know what the difference is for the cost of killing sheep. Is is likewise wildly inefficient and overpriced like cattle cost of kill? Somehow I would suspect so.
28/03/2013 10:55:40 AM, on Farm Weekly

Hey bullfrog,put your super into anew abbottoir and we maybe able to process our livestock here when they are ready instead of having to wait 3months to get slaughter booking
28/03/2013 11:13:12 AM, on Farm Weekly

Sadly not much will change until there is a new government in Canberra.
bridget 64
28/03/2013 2:30:48 PM, on Stock & Land

What rubbish the unethical Ludwig speaks. This is a text book case of why Aus won't ever succeed in imposing higher welfare standards on an importing country with lower welfare standards, because the importing countries WONT ACCEPT IT ! As Saudi says, "You cannot put your conditions on your partner, you discuss your conditions with your partner." and then when Aus doesn't bow to the lower standards of the importing country, the importer, like the Saudi's, will play bully and threaten trade relations. So - live export can NEVER be done humanely. Ludwig, "put your ethics back in" and STOP LIVEX
28/03/2013 4:08:17 PM, on The Land

Don't waste your time,pricetaker.These so called animal activists only care about the animals as long as it doesn't cost them anything.Liars,whingers,hypocrite s and frauds the lot if them.
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