EVERYTHING is in place to export Australian sheep to Iran except Federal Government approval according to the man behind the new venture, former Kalgoorlie MP Graeme Campbell.
E-1 Airsa Meat Packers Qeshm chairman Allie Shafaghee (left), with former Kalgoorlie MP Graeme Campbell.
Mr Campbell said he has been fighting to have the market reopened after it was closed 37 years ago.
Iran was once Australia's biggest live export market back when the population of the Middle Eastern country was 50 million. Its population is now 90 million.
Mr Campbell is pushing to open live exports with Iran through the Iranian free trade island of Qeshm, situated just off the Iranian coast.
The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) had already supported the exportation of Tier 1 boxed lamb to Qeshm which Mr Campbell said was an "enormous breakthrough."
But he said he couldn't understand why they couldn't open the market to live exports as well.
"We have Iranian Government support and commercial support for the project but Australian Government organisations are holding up the process," he said.
Farm Weekly met with Mr Campbell and the importer behind the venture, E-1 Airsa Meat Packers Qeshm chairman Allie Shafaghee last week.
"We want to build the biggest abattoir in the Middle East to process 4000 sheep a day," Mr Campbell said.
"It will have its own private port one kilometre from the abattoir and will be the best facility in the Middle East."
Mr Campbell said the facility would be entirely financed by Iran and Mr Shafaghee had already purchased 10 hectares of land on Qeshm Island for the facility to be built.
It is estimated the processing plant would cost $40 million to build and begin operating, but that would increase to $70m to get it fully operational.
Mr Shafaghee said Iran wanted 100,000 sheep a month or 1.2 million sheep a year via live export.
He said they wanted fat-tailed sheep and would take them up to 25kg carcase weight, but would prefer them lighter.
"They are looking for a lean carcase with no more than score 3 fat," Mr Campbell said.
Mr Campbell said Iran saw Australia as a reliable food source.
"This is the perfect opportunity for Australian sheep producers, particularly during a time when sheep producers are looking for some confidence in the market," he said.
"This has got an opportunity to put a floor in meat prices (in Australia).
"We will also add a cattle line at some stage but we will get the sheep up and running first."
Mr Campbell said the sticking point was that the bank wouldn't sign off on the project until the Australian Government gave approval for sheep to be exported there.
He said Iran had no issue with becoming Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) compliant.
Mr Campbell said so far he had received no support from Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig's office on the project and the same for Trade Minister Craig Emerson.
"Tony Crook has been good and he has done all he can," he said.
"We have Wellard Rural Exports' support and Iranian support – we just don't have the Australian Government's support."
Wellard managing director Steve Meerwald said the company had been working on a range of different markets and Iran was one of them.
He said there were a number of issues which needed to be sorted out from health protocols, an MOU between Australia and Iran, ESCAS and then a commercial arrangement.
"Mr Campbell has discussed it with us and people are working on it, but it is still a reasonable amount of time away yet because they still don't have a facility," Mr Meerwald said.
"There are a number of other facilities in Iran which could come on stream reasonably quickly if the health protocols can get sorted out.
"From our perspective we have a number of different options.
"There is nothing to make us think that it won't happen but it is just taking a long time to get it all together."
A spokersperson for Mr Ludwig said he was aware DAFF had been contacted by Mr Campbell regarding re-opening trade with the Qeshm Free Trade Zone in Iran for livestock and for meat.
"DAFF is already pursuing the development of a Memorandum of Understanding with Iranian authorities over the export of Australian livestock and DAFF is working with Mr Campbell on the export of meat," the spokesperson said.