THE live sheep trade from Western Australia is gearing up for another season, with the three and a half month moratorium to the Middle East ending on Tuesday of this week.
Rural Export and Trading WA (RETWA) confirmed that the Al Kuwait livestock vessel was due in Fremantle this week from the Middle East to load a consignment of about 52,000 head of sheep and a small consignment of cattle, for delivery to Kuwait and its Gulf neighbours.
Kuwait has been running low on sheep in its feedlot after a consignment from South Africa was delayed for two months by animal activists seeking injunctions on the Al Messilah livestock vessel.
The vessel finally set sail for Kuwait last week with about 50,000 sheep, which had been stranded in a feedlot at the exporters' expense while the issue was dragged out in the courts.
RETWA's parent company Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading (KLTT) is building its South African supply chain - which will take a few years before it has the numbers needed to compete against WA.
Millions of dollars is being invested in South Africa to create a competent supply chain that can provide a consistent number of sheep each year, which will replace Australia if the trade is banned, or fill the gaps if the moratorium continues to interrupt a year-long trade.
RETWA managing director Mike Gordon said he was expecting the export season to have "limited supply" as the market was limited due to the number of sheep transported to the Eastern States in the past 12 months - more than 1.7 million head.
"Things will be tight - a massive number of sheep have left the system in the past 12 months and the WA sheep flock is diminishing, not growing," Mr Gordon said.
"We still have to share what is available with processors which have a big demand."
Mr Gordon said it would be interesting to see what happens if the Saudi Arabian trade reopened and where the numbers would come from to fill the orders.
He said a decision by the KLTT board, in Kuwait, to sell the Al Shuwaikh a few weeks ago left the company with the Al Messilah and the Al Kuwait to service the Australian market.
"We have the two ships and we will probably run them faster - and have them spaced out so that they can operate continuously," Mr Gordon said.
As the Al Kuwait arrives in Fremantle this week it comes with Australian veterinarians and stockmen who have been stuck on board the three KLTT vessels since March because of COVID-19 restrictions.
A RETWA spokesperson said the crew would be looking forward to disembarking, even if they had to spend 14 days in quarantine in Perth.
Mr Gordon said COVID-19 had made things tougher and more problematic for the company.
He said attracting vets and stockies to fill the roles was difficult because the company couldn't move them around as easily - with quarantine requirements delaying them two weeks when they arrived in WA and then two weeks when they returned - at a cost to the company.
"It is better for us and them if they sign up to multiple voyages," Mr Gordon said.
"The less amount of time in quarantine the better."
Mr Gordon said trying to get vets and stockmen had been problematic because "some won't do it" - as a two-week voyage has now been pushed out to about nine weeks when the quarantine before and after is added, as well as the voyage and then the return trip on the vessel because air flights were not available.
He said it was better for them and the company if they continued working on the vessels as long as possible.