WA LIVE exporters are banding together over concerns about WA's live export future.
And they are calling on sheep and cattle producers to join them, fearing exports to the Middle East could be set to drown under a mountain of regulations and increased costs thanks to the introduction of the Supply Chain Assurance (SCA) into that market.
Exporters say that Middle East importers are already looking elsewhere to source cattle and sheep over concerns that Australia may not be a reliable supplier in the future.
The first stage of SCA was set to be introduced under the Bill Farmer Review into live exports on February 29 in markets such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Turkey but exporters have said the timeframe is unrealistic and unreachable.
WA Live Exporters Association (WALEA) chairman John Edwards came out firing at the Australian Government, in particular Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, saying there has been little government-to-government dialogue from the Minister with these key markets.
Mr Edwards said live export volumes to all overseas markets were expected to drop this year in the face of the new regulatory framework imposed on exporters by the Australian Government.
The four markets, along with Indonesia and Egypt which already have post-arrival regulatory arrangements in place, make up 75 per cent of Australia's live export trade.
Exporters said while they support the improvement in animal welfare, the implementation process needed to be approached differently.
"It has been a far from easy task for exporters introducing the mandatory requirements of the Australian Government into their clients' overseas operations and this has seen a slow up in export volumes for 2011," Mr Edwards said.
"Further trade difficulties will also be realised this year as the Indonesian Government's recent decision to halve cattle import numbers for 2012 from Australia is a sure sign trade relations are not all they are said to be after the handling of the trade closure by Minister Ludwig."
Exporters have told Farm Weekly that despite expressing these concerns to Mr Ludwig, he has clearly not taken on board industry's views on the issue.
Mr Edwards said Middle East exporters were at odds with the government over the SCA introduction to the region and believed a 'one size fits all' market approach would not work.
"The marketing process system and complexities in the Middle East region are manifestly different to the basic feeder/slaughter trade in Indonesia," he said.
"We believe attempting to duplicate the framework tailor made for one market into another is fraught with problems."
Mr Edwards said he agreed with the outcomes the Australian Government was aiming for but didn't agree with the process.
"The system developed to restart the feeder cattle to Indonesia should not be seen as a template for additional markets but as the first step in a process to engage importers and their governments to take responsibility for their own in-market OIE obligations," he said.
"But this is not happening as the government continues to press ahead with standards to which it aspires without fairly consulting overseas governments and importers."
Mr Ludwig is still yet to do a trip to the Middle East or South East Asia since the Bill Farmer Review was released in October but Farm Weekly understands he is heading to a number of Middle Eastern markets at the end of this month.
This is more than three months after the Bill Farmer Review was released and just weeks before the first tranche is set to be up to standard.
Mr Edwards said initial delivery of the regulatory framework surrounding supply chain assurance by Australian Government officials into Middle East markets late last year was not effective.
"While overseas governments and importers may have listened and supported the 'concept'
they all have had little understanding of its ramifications and requirements and it is only now exporters are experiencing a major backlash as importer clients learn of compliance details, costs, likely business down turn that all come with the 'concept' they have been supporting," he said.
Mr Edwards said overseas markets had not been adequately consulted nor had the opportunity to put their concerns to the Australian Government.
He said the Australian Government and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) did not understand the issues in implementing the SCA in Middle Eastern markets.
He said it was inappropriate that the Federal Government had attempted to regulate exporters to achieve its goal in overseas markets, even though Australia did not have any jurisdiction in sovereign nations.
"The current approach shows little regard for the standards and authority of importing country governments," he said.
"Taking a dictatorial approach to driving home this regulation without acceptable consultation will lead to push back from the markets."
Mr Edwards said exporters and importers would struggle to meet the regulatory framework without the support of importing governments and appropriate ministries.
"It is only these two entities that have the legal empowerment to ensure compliance to any framework," he said.
"Despite exporter's continued insistence this is not being considered by the Federal Government in its push to mandate SCA regulation throughout the Middle East.
"Without effective engagement with Middle Eastern governments the necessary changes required won't happen quickly.
"Flexibility must be available to minimise disruption to the market place and keep our customer countries onside through this process."
Mr Edwards said he was fearful there would be another live export suspension if the framework was not met which would have detrimental effects on the livestock industry and on the importing countries.
"Producers, exporters and all the service industries in Australia will be adversely affected via a devastating economic impact as will their counterparts in the importing countries," he said.
"There is also the very real risk of the Australian Government being blamed for threats to food security as well as creating the potential for social and political unrest in some markets."
Mr Edwards said industry is confounded by a statement from DAFF that the SCA framework is based around international standards, as opposed to Australian standards, and that the measures applied 'do not exceed those that are in place in Australia.'
"This is a very inaccurate statement," he said.
"Nowhere in Australia is there a mandatory requirement to have audited supply chains pre-approved by the government prior to livestock sales and/or movement, nor have facilities audited against a welfare checklist."
Mr Ludwig was unavailable for an interview with Farm Weekly but a spokesperson said in a statement that the Gillard Government was implementing significant reforms to the live export trade.
The spokesperson said the exporters responsibility was extensively canvassed with industry through the Industry Government Working Group and through negotiations and consultations on the government's response to the Farmer Review.
"A key principle of the new regulatory framework for live animal exports is that responsibility lies with the exporter to ensure that the animals they export are supplied and remain within supply chains that meet World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards," the spokesperson said.
"Exporters need to ensure that their commercial arrangements in importing countries give effect to this."
The spokesperson said the government recognised the responsibility of exporters for establishing and maintaining the SCA, the Australian Government was working with exporters on specific supply chains in each country to identify potential road blocks.
They said the removal of potential road blocks would require or could be assisted by consultation with foreign government agencies, to undertake the necessary discussions.
"Industry has affirmed their commitment to implementing the reforms across supply chains," the spokesperson said.
"The Government is continuing to work with exporters and governments in export markets on implementation of the new framework.
"This week, an Industry Government Implementation Group was established. I
"Its members include state and territory government representatives and industry."
The spokesperson said the government supports a vibrant livestock trade which safeguards animal welfare.
"This is an important trade for Australia that supports jobs, families and communities, particularly in northern and regional Australia," the spokesperson said.
"These reforms will strengthen our export trade for the long term, not risk it.
"The whole of Government continues to work closely to ensure this trade has a strong and sustainable future."
The spokesperson said Mr Ludwig was working closely with industry and, along with Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, continues to engage with trading partners.
"This high level of engagement will continue in the coming months as the Government's reforms take effect across all live export markets throughout 2012, as agreed through the 2011 Industry Government Working Group," the spokesperson said.
"It was clear self-regulation had failed and action needed to be taken to ensure the sustainability of our live export trade.
"The Government's reforms ensure increased traceability and accountability, as well as improved animal welfare standards.
"It's important that State and Territory Governments engage with the Federal Government to ensure the future of this industry, which is why Minister Ludwig invited his State and Territory counterparts to participate in the Industry Government Implementation Group."
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