Federal agriculture minister Joe Ludwig has returned from the Middle East saying he is convinced that new regulatory requirements designed to improve the welfare of Australian livestock in the region will work.
Senator Ludwig led a delegation of industry representatives and exporters to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar last week.
The trade mission was conducted against a backdrop of concerns that the Federal Government's new supply chain assurance deadlines are too tight and, if unable to be met, will threaten millions-of-dollars-worth of trade.
Exporters have less than one month to implement supply chain assurance standards, including full traceability, in the markets of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Turkey by February 29. They will only be able to deliver stock into accredited supply chains in those markets after that date.
While the Government has imposed the new deadlines, the responsibility for meeting them lies solely with industry, minister Ludwig has stated.
After returning from the six-day mission last week, Senator Ludwig said the industry was working hard to meet the requirements and expressed confidence in exporters' ability to make the new system work.
Mr Ludwig said the delegation’s participation in his meetings with importers in each of the four markets and their discussions as they travelled had helped to address some of their concerns over Australia’s framework implementation.
“I met with the governments of those countries and their importers to brief them on the new supply chain assurance system, and explained how the new system will secure a stronger trading future and provide more certainty for trading partners,” Mr Ludwig said.
“I made it clear to our trading partners that Australia is committed to a strong and viable livestock trade which ensures animal welfare outcomes meet world standards.
“The dialogue with our trading partners did not start with this trip, nor will it end with this trip. We will continue to engage with our trading partners and with industry to see these reforms implemented and build a strong future for the live export trade.
“In meetings with the Australian industry, exporters and importers, I heard about the work that has already been undertaken to implement Australia’s new system. I heard first-hand how exporters are progressing and discussed what remains to be done.
“I visited a number of feedlots and abattoirs on my visit, some of which were processing Australian sheep.
"The practices that I saw were as good as you would see in some Australian facilities. It’s evident that recent improvements have been made, and I suspect those improvements will continue.
“The industry representatives all consider that the new supply chain assurance system the only way to secure the future of the trade and are determined to make the new system work.
“There are clearly challenges, but improvements to animal welfare have already been made. We will continue to work with industry bodies and exporters to get the new system in place, including through the Industry-Government Implementation Group.
“We are taking action with industry to secure a strong future for Australia’s live animal export trade. This trade is an important one for Australia – it supports jobs, families and communities, particularly in northern and regional Australia. The trade is also an important one for our trading partners – it supports their food security and human health.
“There is still a lot of work to be done in the next month but I am confident that industry is doing as much as they can to implement the new system. We are going to work together until it is in place."
Cattle Council of Australia president Andrew Ogilvie, who travelled with the minister, said the council remains firm on its its commitment to the implementation of Supply Chain Assurance standards by in the Middle East by the February 29 deadline.
Returning from the joint Government/industry visit to the Middle East region, led by Minister Ludwig, Mr Ogilvie believes that the delegation was successful in assisting importing countries gain a better understanding of the Exporters Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) being applied across all supply chains processing Australian livestock.
Mr Ogilvie said the implementation of the Export Supply Chain Assurance System would provide the industry with a long term future, and meant Australian livestock would continue to play an important part in meeting the food security needs of the countries of the region.
Mr Ogilvie said there were still some outstanding issues to be resolved – mostly around contractual matters and auditing – but these are not insurmountable.
Industry was also working to meet the needs of tranche 2 and 3 markets.
"Australian efforts over a number of years in our Middle East markets have led to welcome improvements in animal welfare. Our work is also leading to better welfare for animals from countries other than Australia," Mr Ogilvie said.