November 3, 2003
Australia Failed to Sign Live Cattle Export Trade Agreement With Saudi Arabia
Australia failed to sign an agreement with Saudi Arabia over the live export trade which may have prevented the MV Cormo Express affair.
Secretary of Australia's Agriculture Department Mike Taylor told a Senate estimates committee today that in hindsight it would have been prudent to have the agreement in place.
Australia resumed the live animal trade with Saudi Arabia in 2000 after a decade-long break.
But the committee heard an agreement governing the resumed trade was never signed by Australia, did not contain a dispute resolution system and failed to agree on a level of the disease scabby mouth.
Saudi Arabia did sign the agreement.
In August this year, a Saudi vet claimed 30% of 57,000 Australian sheep aboard the Cormo Express had scabby mouth.
Although the vet later revised down the disease rate to 6%, the shipment was rejected by Saudi Arabia on disease grounds.
It was not until last month that the remaining 52,000 sheep were landed in the north African nation of Eritrea.
Australia has banned the live animal trade with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Cormo Express.
Opposition primary industries spokesman Kerry O'Brien described the failure of Australia not to sign an agreement with Saudi Arabia as a fiasco.
"The resumption in the trade was underpinned by a Clayton's protocol that didn't even contain a dispute resolution clause," he said.
An inquiry into the Cormo Express affair is being conducted in a bid to avoid its repetition.
Mr Taylor said in future countries importing live animals could be required to provide quarantine yards where animals would be slaughtered if they were found to be diseased when they arrived.
Australia would also consider setting up holding and slaughtering yards in third countries.
Mr Taylor said vets from importing countries may have to sign off on health checks before animals leave Australia.
Investigations are still going on to find out why Saudi Arabia rejected the sheep, as Australian and international vets have verified the animals were free of scabby mouth.
Senator O'Brien said Saudi Arabia had raised concerns about previous shipments of Australian animals during which the number of sheep or cattle to have died during the voyage were under-reported.
Mr Taylor said there were a large number of rumours surrounding the Saudi decision.
"We don't have any factual basis for any of them," he said.
Agriculture Department officials said the likely cost of the Cormo Express affair would be between $9.5 million and $10 million.
Fisheries and Conservation Minister Ian Macdonald said a levy on live animal exports would cover the cost.
But he said this might reduce the price gained by Australian farmers for their animals.
"The market will decide where that (impact) falls," he said.