NZ's reputation more important than live exports for slaughter
New Zealand's reputation is too important to allow the export of live sheep for slaughter, say farming industry leaders.
In 2003 the Labour Government banned the export of live sheep after a disastrous shipment went wrong and 4000 sheep died en route to Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister John Key is in Saudi Arabia to try and kickstart stalled negotiations for a free trade deal between New Zealand and the Gulf states. Resistance from Saudi Arabia was a stumbling block to passing it.
The negotiations were almost complete in 2009, but an influential Saudi investor lost cash because of New Zealand's ban on live sheep imports, and the Saudis held a grudge.
Key said: "There were concerns about a Saudi investor and the way he was treated in New Zealand, that was one issue.
"It was a guy who invested decades and decades ago and wasn't sure he'd been properly treated, but that situation has been resolved."
But meat industry leaders said New Zealand had too much to lose by allowing the resumption of the live sheep trade.
Federated Farmers meat industry group chairman Rick Powdrell said he was unaware of any pressure within the New Zealand farming community to restart the exports.
"It's all about animal welfare, making sure the animals reach their destination in a fit and healthy state," Powdrell said.
The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry has reported that, between 2000 and 2012, more than 550,000 sheep have died in the live sheep trade.
Chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, Tim Ritchie, said it was a "reputational" issue.
"In the eyes of the consumer ethical matters are pretty important so the last thing we would want is to be doing something which had the potential to devalue our image and reputation," Ritchie said.
Meat trade with Saudi Arabia is worth $120 million, most of that frozen, and it imposes tariffs of 5 per cent on those imports. It is New Zealand's fifth largest market for sheepmeat.
New Zealand has a well developed live sheep and beef export trade for breeding purposes. To the year ended September 2014, live animal exports rose $94m to $110m. This rise was due to live cattle (including dairy cattle), going to China.
A Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman said the export of live sheep for slaughter was suspended in 2003 and in 2007 the Government introduced a Customs Export Prohibition Order (CEPO) on all livestock for slaughter. He said the Director-General of MPI may approve individual consignments on a case-by-case basis if judged that the risks can be adequately managed. To date, no request has ever been made.
In early 2014, MPI Minister Nathan Guy signed a protocol with the Ministry of Agriculture in Saudi Arabia providing the framework for exports of livestock for breeding purposes. In addition to the specific testing and treatment the livestock must undergo while in New Zealand, the Agreement addresses animal welfare matters upon arrival in Saudi Arabia.
"The New Zealand government has supported the development of a New Zealand agribusiness 'hub', or demonstration farm, near Dammam, Saudi Arabia," the spokesman said.
"The provision of New Zealand sheep for breeding is one part of this project, and involved the transportation of ewes from New Zealand to Saudi Arabia for a pilot research breeding programme focusing on identifying what breeds are best suited to the conditions in Saudi Arabia, reproduction and lamb production. Approximately 900 pregnant ewes were air freighted to Saudi Arabia in October 2014, and all animals arrived safely and in good health."