THE Kuwait government has written to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, requesting he "reconsider" the June to September moratorium on live sheep exports due to food security issues in the country caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But efforts to change the government's position look to be in vain.
Kuwait Minister of Trade and Industry Khalid Nassir Alrowdan wrote that "Kuwait considers Australia its strategic partner in securing its livestock needs" and requested that Mr Littleproud "reconsider the Australian livestock export ban during the hemisphere summer to our region assuring that we will take all the necessary precautionary measures for animal welfare, to enhance our national food security and the Australian national economy".
His letter coincided with correspondence from Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading (KLTT) chief executive officer Osama Boodai, which was also directed to Mr Littleproud, dated April 2, 2020.
Mr Boodai said the company had been a "consistent partner to Australian farmers for nearly 50 years and was a "major supplier of Australian sheep" to markets in the Arabian Gulf, which "depend on us".
"The current COVID-19 outbreak around the world has placed increased pressure on food supplies into the Middle East region," Mr Boodai said.
"International passenger flights have been materially impacted and this is seriously affecting deliveries of fresh food staples including chilled meat, fruit and vegetables and dairy products to all of the markets.
"Demand for live animals has now significantly increased as a means for people to access fresh meat on a daily basis and KLTT is doing its best to meet this demand."
Mr Boodai said when the holy month of Ramadan (April 23-May 23) ended, "demand for fresh sheep meats rises enormously".
"The revered Eid Al Adha festival falls in late July and live animals are of critical importance to that occasion and we fear there will also be shortages then," Mr Boodai said.
"Considering the above, we are extremely disappointed to learn of the Australian government's recent decision to further regulate the supply of live sheep to the Middle East, particularly to the Arabian Gulf markets.
"In theses times of economic and human adversity, these actions will only cause further hardship to the people living in the region.
"Restricting the trade of Australian sheep puts the region's sovereign food security at risk and damages very long time trading relationships.
"This continual and repeated interference in the live sheep trade from your country and doubt from the Australian government has unreservedly caused widespread resentment and business impacts across all markets.
"This further round of trade restrictions may seem inconsequential to your regulator but for us and the region these are seen to be highly indifferent and lack an understanding of the region's need for live sheep and how the trade actually operates."
Mr Boodai said the "overall viability of the Gulf sheep trade is now further threatened by these recent changes" and Australia had "forced" KLTT's hand.
"Your government has forced our hand; by restricting the trade of Australian sheep, inevitably we must look and invest elsewhere in order to secure our and the region's food security," he said.
"The farmers who we have long supported in Australia will be highly concerned about these developments, as should your ministry.
"I call upon you to consider the gravity of this decision making by your animal exports regulator and put into perspective what this means for bilateral relations, trade and social and economic well being of all countries impacted here, including your own."
Farm Weekly understands that as of May 24 Mr Littleproud had not responded to the letter.
A Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) spokesperson said the department "appreciates that COVID-19 has presented major challenges for importing and exporting countries" and it takes "seriously our responsibilities in promoting free trade and ensuring that we can supply our markets in the Middle East despite the crisis".
"Working with the live export industry we were able to put in place arrangements that ensured the trade could continue to date and meet necessary animal welfare requirements, despite the imposition of tighter border measures under COVID-19," DAWE said.
"The department also takes seriously the need to manage animal welfare risks.
"The revised export conditions for sheep to, or through, the Middle East, including the prohibition period, followed a review by a panel of independent experts and public consultation through a Regulation Impact Statement process.
"The Australian government's International Freight Assistance Mechanism is an example of the government's efforts to continue food supply to our trading partners constrained by the current air freight situation and allow exports of produce such as chilled meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and dairy into our key overseas markets, including the Middle East.
"Through this program the Australian government is ensuring a continuation of chilled lamb meat exports to the Middle East, including Kuwait."
Federal Member for O'Connor Rick Wilson wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, highlighting the Kuwaitis' concerns and asking him to consider the waiver while COVID-19 was affecting Middle East trading partners.
Mr Wilson said nations such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait were "desperate" and "very concerned about their food security".
He said due to a lack of chilled meat air freighted into those markets, the live export trade was the "best way to get a bulk amount of protein in to those markets at the moment".
Mr Wilson said the government and regulator needed to take into account recent shipment results and the use of the Al Kuwait livestock vessel, which KLTT added to its fleet in March.
His letter said the recent trade suspension of beef imports form four Australian abattoirs into China "has exposed the risk for WA producers supplying mutton to this growing market from our two major abattoirs, both based in my electorate".
"In view of the current difficulties in our trade relationship with China, and the escalating demand for our live sheep into the Middle East, I respectfully request the government reconsider the pending Northern Summer shipping pause to provide ongoing supply into our long-established and dependable markets in Qatar, Jordan and the UAE," Mr Wilson said.
"I firmly believe live shipping offers the only safe and reliable means to guarantee the supply of large volumes of sheep meat, and food security to our Middle Eastern trading partners, during this pandemic period."
Mr Wilson said while he hasn't had a full response yet from the PM's office, he was hopeful that government would see the link between expanded feed barley exports to Saudi Arabia and a possible expansion of the live sheep trade, 65 per cent of which was supplied by his electorate.
Mr Littleproud's office was contacted for comment.