THE introduction of the three-month moratorium on live sheep exports to the Middle East from June to August has already made a significant impact on our largest importer, Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading (KLTT) and on local sheep producers who supply the trade.
KLTT said in order to provide food security to its people it would look at sourcing live sheep from other countries if Australia would not supply it - which it has and will continue to do so.
But the recent extension of the moratorium by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) by an additional three weeks, pushing it out to September 22 has been labelled "bureaucracy gone mad" and could hurt the trade further.
Last week KLTT announced the successful arrival of its first shipment of live Romanian sheep and the company is expected to continue to source sheep from a number of countries because of Australia's pause in trade.
KLTT chief executive Osama Boodai said the shipment fulfilled "our strategic plan to achieve food security by diversifying sources and products to achieve stability and balance in the provision of red meat throughout the year".
He said KLTT had undertaken extensive studies of sheep export markets, "until Romania, the fourth largest producer of sheep in the European Union, was selected as one of our certified red meat sources".
Mr Boodai said KLTT would also import sheep from several other countries besides Romania, including South Africa.
None of these countries have the same standards of regulation and animal welfare that Australia has.
Mr Boodai said the sheep from the first shipment were sent to other Gulf countries to meet their needs during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.
He said the Romanian sheep were sourced from small farms scattered across the country and were "characterised by their meat quality".
KLTT had previously imported an "experimental" shipment of sheep by plane from Romania in the month of Ramadan, which he said were well received by consumers in Kuwait, which "encourages us to import this batch by sea".
KLTT is a Kuwaiti public shareholding company established in 1973 and provides food security to the region as the largest live sheep carrier in the world.
The company is headquartered in Kuwait with branches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Australia and South Africa.
It has livestock farms in Kuwait and the UAE and operates the largest slaughterhouse in Kuwait and the region.
WA Livestock Exporters' Association chairman John Cunnington said it was a "disappointing outcome to extend the moratorium period beyond what the exporters had self-imposed".
"Apart from the huge commercial stress this puts on exporters with the short time frame provided by the department, it also puts large pressure on producers waiting for rain," Mr Cunnington said.
"Exporters believe that they can continue the trade in September with high animal welfare outcomes and should be given the opportunity to do so."
Mr Cunnington said KLTT was looking after its food security first and foremost which was completely understandable.
"We are a replaceable commodity from other countries and these shipments from Romania and South Africa prove this," he said.
"Corrigin sheep producer Steven Bolt was in the Middle East on a tour as a member of The Sheep Collective when the announcement was made by DAWR to extent the moratorium.
He said the news came as a big disappointment to Al Mawashi, the parent company to Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading (KLTT).
"The announcement came when I was in the Middle East," Mr Bolt said.
"It was a great disappointment from the major companies importing our sheep.
"They feel that they have complied with all the changes to the regulations in the past 18 months or so and made improvements on recent voyages.
"As a result we are going to see them sourcing sheep from other countries.
"I saw Romanian sheep while in the Middle East and they will continue to source from there, as well as South Africa, because they have not been able to secure sheep from us."
Mr Bolt said he could "understand from their point of view they want to have secure numbers of sheep coming into the market".
"Australian sheep are preferable because we have consistent quality and numbers, but they need a continuous supply," he said.
Mr Bolt said there would be implications from the extension for Western Australian growers.
"With tighter seasonal feed conditions growers are holding wethers and looking to sell when the moratorium ends in September," he said.
"They can't sell the sheep because they have no market available for them.
"It doesn't help producers because the wethers will be taking up space on farm that could be used by weaned lambs.
"It really starts putting pressure on growers."
York farmer Peter Boyle, who supplies to the live sheep trade, said the decision by DAWR to extend the moratorium had far reaching implications beyond improved animal welfare.
"It's bureaucracy gone mad," Mr Boyle said.
"Why bother doing all this work to improve mortality rates on voyages and better animal welfare outcomes when the department doesn't pay any attention to the results?
"It's all for naught."
Mr Boyle was referring to the results of recent voyages which DAWR didn't take into consideration in making its decision.
He said the extension of the pause in trade was "messing up people's plans" on farm.
"It is a prime feed production part of the year in WA and now we have to carry extra sheep for an additional three weeks," he said.
"When are they going to listen to the science?
"You put it before them and they ignore it."
Mr Boyle said once the three-month moratorium was in place producers began planning around it and when the opening rains came they started collecting sheep for the September 1 delivery when exporters would be in the market again.
"It is costing more to hold them for another three weeks," Mr Boyle said.
"That's one cycle missed - 130,000 sheep that can't go.
"That's income that is lost."