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Livestock exports to Saudi Arabia suspended.

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Joint Media Release

The Hon Mark Vaile, Federal Minister for Trade and The Hon Warren Truss, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Thursday 28 August 2003

Livestock Exports to Saudi Arabia Suspended

The Australian Government has suspended further shipments of livestock to Saudi Arabia pending the negotiation of an effective mechanism to ensure the safe entry of livestock to the country.

This decision follows the rejection of a shipment of 57,000 Australian sheep by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia's quarantine officials at the Port of Jeddah alleged that some 6% of the animals in the shipment were affected by scabby mouth. By contrast, the assessment of the experienced AQIS-approved Australian veterinarian on board the MV Cormo Express, was that fewer than 200 sheep, or 0.35 per cent of the shipment, were affected. This number is well below the 5% tolerance level agreed between Saudi Arabia and Australia.

In light of this major discrepancy, a delegation consisting of the Australian Ambassador and senior officials from the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) met in Riyadh on 26 August with the Saudi Arabian Minister of Agriculture to request a second veterinary inspection, and to discuss ways in which better communication and clearer guidelines might assist the livestock trade.

Unfortunately the Saudi authorities were not prepared to agree to an immediate re-examination of the shipment by Saudi vets. Similarly, on animal welfare grounds, Australia was unable to accept a suggestion that the sheep remain on board for a further 7 to 10 days before being reinspected.

The Australian Government has called in the Saudi Charge d Affaires to express its concern with the Saudi decision.

The consignment is healthy and in good condition, and the ship has taken on additional feed. It will now depart Jeddah for an alternative port, where the sheep will be inspected by an independent veterinarian and then discharged for delivery to customers. The welfare of the animals will be the number one priority in deciding the port of discharge.

Given its global reputation for the health and quality of its sheep, goats and cattle, Australian exporters are confident of finding alternative markets for our livestock. The live export trade to Saudi Arabia was worth A$195 million in 02/03.

In the meantime, Australian and Saudi officials will work closely together in an effort to develop agreed guidelines which would allow the trade to resume.

Media contacts:

Tim Langmead (Mr Truss) 02 6277 7520 - Matthew Doman (Mr Vaile) 02 6277 7420