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Live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia are suspended after a shipment is rejected because of scabby mouth



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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PM

 

Thursday 28th August 2003

Live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia are suspended after incident of scabby mouth results rejection of shipment

 

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Government has suspended the livestock trade with Saudi Arabia after the Saudis rejected a shipment of sheep earlier this week. 

 

Saudi authorities said the incidence of scabby mouth in the shipment exceeded the agreed limit. 

 

Saudi Arabia is one of Australia's key markets, it takes a third of the total live sheep trade, worth $120 million. 

 

It's the first problem since the trade with the Saudis resumed in 1999. 

 

But it's still worrying for the industry because the last dispute resulted in an eight-year hiatus.  

 

David Weber reports.  

 

DAVID WEBER: A Saudi Quarantine official had estimated that too many of the 57,000 sheep have scabby mouth.  

 

The Australian vet on the ship says only 200 of the animals are affected, this is way below the agreed limit of five per cent. 

 

Saudi officials apparently wanted the ship to wait for up to ten days before it could be inspected again.  

 

But Livecorp Chief Executive, Kevin Shiell, says that's too long. 

 

KEVIN SHIELL: In light of the impossibility of working out a suitable solution and the serious animal welfare concerns we have with the situation in Saudi Arabia we have no alternative but to make that decision and immediately seek an alternative market for the sheep. 

 

DAVID WEBER: So those crisis talks have come to nothing? 

 

KEVIN SHIELL: I think there's certainly a recognition of the issues that were raised by the Australians, but unfortunately there didn't seem to be an ability to move on it, and because of that we need a solution immediately and not something that’s a week or 10 days away so we made the decision. 

 

DAVID WEBER: Is it still your belief than less a half a per cent of sheep on that ship are affected by scabby mouth? 

 

KEVIN SHIELL: The advice we've got from the government-approved veterinarian that's on that vessel is that it's about 0.35 of a per cent which is well within the 10 times higher or more than that, five per cent, tolerance level that has been previously agreed between Saudi Arabia and Australia. 

 

From that point of view, there just didn't seem to be any rules that currently applied so we have to get on with trade. 

 

We are completely happy to have someone independent review the cargo and we would be seeking to do that as part of the arrangements for their acceptance into another country. 

 

DAVID WEBER: What other countries are possible in the area? 

 

KEVIN SHIELL: There are a number of other markets that could be able to take sheep and Australia has a good reputation as a supplier for its quality and the preparation of animals for export. 

 

It's a matter of just identifying what they are and working out what the best arrangements are to get that there as soon as possible.  

 

DAVID WEBER: The Minister for Agriculture, Warren Truss, says there are no more ships on their way to Saudi Arabia and Mr Truss says no ships will go until there's a guarantee about the arrangements that are in place to resolve disputes.  

 

WARREN TRUSS: This shipment does meet the specifications and does so easily, and so the reason why we are so surprised by Saudi Arabia’s officials refusing to receive this cargo. 

 

DAVID WEBER: You're very confident that the Australian vet's estimate is right? 

 

WARREN TRUSS: Australia has offered to the Saudi authorities that they conduct another immediate examination of the shipment by Saudi vets. 

 

We're quite happy to have our assessment of the situation examined by the Saudis to make sure that our estimates are in fact correct. 

 

DAVID WEBER: This could be a pretty serious blow given that the last dispute lasted for some eight-years? 

 

WARREN TRUSS: I'm naturally hopeful that we can still find a way to resolve these issues. 

 

Clearly we can't allow this ship to remain in port for long periods of time, particularly in the hot weather. 

 

We still need to resolve the issues and hopefully resolve them quickly, because Saudis are still keen to take Australian sheep and we still regard it as a very important market. 

 

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Agricultural Minister, Warren Truss, speaking to David Weber.