THE live export industry has enjoyed a big year and with talks of growth, market potential and new assurance systems, the industry was feeling positive.
China was the talk of the town again this year, as the signing of an important health protocol placed Australia a step closer to tapping into China's big beef potential early in the year.
The signing of the feeder and slaughter cattle health protocol with China by federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce in Canberra signified a milestone for the Australian beef industry, making it the first nation in the world to gain entry for feeder and slaughter cattle into China.
Mr Joyce believed that within a decade China would take an extra million head of live cattle a year, on top of shipments to other live export markets.
That's a doubling of current live export numbers.
While WA's export industry welcomed the signing as good news, it also warned there could be lengthy delays before vessels filled with WA feeder and slaughter cattle started heading to China.
Exporters were optimistic about the development, but remain cautious until the full details were known.
Australian exporter Wellard was ready to be a major supplier of cattle to China.
Wellard announced it had signed a joint venture with private Chinese company, the Fulida Group, with plans to supply and market Australian cattle and beef into China, develop import feedlot and slaughter quarantine facilities, feedlots and an abattoir to facilitate the live cattle trade.
It also listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) this month, beginning trading at $1.39 per share.
Wellard lodged a prospectus for its initial public offering (IPO) with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission after competing a $298.9 million initial public offering.
Wellard chief executive officer Mauro Balzarini now owns about 36.6pc of Wellard and Wellard management owns 3.4pc.
Another exporter Otway Livestock Exports looked to significantly increase its buying presence.
The Victorian company was formerly known as AH & R Schmidt and has bought small orders in WA in the past.
Otway Livestock Exports managing director Alan Schmidt said after becoming more established in the market, the company planned to ship on a more regular basis from WA to the Israeli market.
Live exporter Livestock Shipping Services' (LSS) also had a good year, employing an additional livestock buyer and launching two new vessels.
LSS's Maysora also set off for its 97th voyage earlier this year, carrying 90,000 sheep, one of the largest shipments of sheep for the past 12 months.
A new global assurance program, to compliment the Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), could help open up the live sheep export trade to Saudi Arabia.
The Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) was unveiled this year, with the hope it would end a stalemate between the Australia's government and Saudi Arabia which refuses to adopt ESCAS because of national sovereignty concerns.
The animal export sector has been working with other industry groups to develop an alternative system to the ESCAS, to overcome some exporter nations' reluctance to have a Australian government regulations imposed in their country.
LGAP could shift some of the compliance burden from exporters to importers and build in a continuous compliance testing system at overseas market facilities.
LGAP trials are soon to commence, prompting hope that it could operate across all of Australia's live export markets, not just in Saudi Arabia.
Interested parties and the public have a 60-day window to provide their views and input on the draft animal welfare standards that have been designed to underpin the new global livestock welfare assurance program.
The livestock export industry also saw a change, as Wellard Middle East general manager Harold Sealy was announced as the new WA Livestock Exporters Association chairman after a reshuffle.
At this year's annual general meeting, Mr Sealy was named the association's new chairman, replacing former chairman Emanuel Exports general manager Nicholas Daws, who has been in the position since 2013.
Mr Sealy has more than five years' experience with the Wellard Group and more than 15 years' experience in the livestock industry.
This month WA ports decided announced plans to boost export numbers.
Ports such as Geralton, Port Hedland, Ashburton could be lined up with cattle for export next year.
Port Hedland could resume live cattle shipments after a 10-year hiatus, after the Pilbara Ports Authority (PPA) met with live exporters and pastoralists to pursue the idea.
The PPA hosted a livestock export forum in early December.
Industry and the PPA will continue discussing the potential for exports and any necessary upgrades to port infrastructure.