Sheep saga puts Pakistan-Australia trade relations in jeopardy

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: While the butchers contracted by the Sindh government kept culling the remaining Australian sheep on the farm of the importer, PK Meat and Food on Saturday, Pakistan-Australia trade relations showed the first signs of the adverse impact that the mishandling of Australian livestock left on the dairy sector of the country.

Sources in the livestock business told The Express Tribune that the resumption of the culling of Australian sheep a day after the importer withdrew his petition against the government unconditionally – allegedly under duress –jeopardised the upcoming import of Australian cows valued at roughly $9.2 million.

About 2,300 dairy cows were expected to arrive in Pakistan from Australia in November, they said, adding that there is only a slim chance now that the import will actually take place given the resentment among Australians towards Pakistanis over the sheep saga.

While speaking to The Express Tribune, Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFSR) Animal Husbandry Commissioner Khurshid Ahmad confirmed that a consignment of 2,300 dairy cows was due next month. However, he said he was still hopeful that the ongoing culling of Australian sheep will not jeopardise the import of dairy cows.

Each animal costs at least Rs400,000, according to Ahmad. He added that roughly 20 different Pakistani importers were jointly importing the consignment, which consisted of high-yielding cows.

According to one source, the per-head yield of these Australian animals was 30 litres a day. Each of these cows was expected to produce milk for 300 days a year, which translates into the total yearly milk yield of 20.7 million litres. Therefore, if calculated on the current market price of Rs70 a litre, the quantum of the retail business alone was expected be in the range of Rs1.45 billion a year.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) of the Australian government, it was the responsibility of Australian livestock exporters to ensure that countries that import animals meet the requirements of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

“Under ESCAS, exporters must ensure that livestock will be handled in accordance with internationally accepted World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards up to, and including, the point of slaughter,” the DAFF maintains.

Against this background, it seems increasingly unlikely that any Australian company will now be willing to export live animals to Pakistan.

“Company exports to Pakistan remain suspended, as we cannot accept placing animals into states that we cannot rely on to provide the animal welfare outcomes (that) Wellard demands,” said Wellard Rural Exports spokesperson Cameron Morse in a statement on Saturday.

“Everyone in Wellard is devastated because 11,500 animals, that the entire world knows are healthy, will be culled. This is a first for the industry in more than 40 years of operation,” he said.

Morse also noted that Wellard’s staff members were “forcibly removed from the facility” when the culling resumed on the importer’s farm.

Authorities were not allowing journalists access to the farm. No one from PK Meat and Food was available for comment either.

Melissa Kelly, first secretary at the Australian High Commission in Islamabad, did not respond to email or phone messages of The Express Tribune.

Australia’s exports of live animal to Pakistan were $9.2 million in 2011 after they increased at an annual rate of 23% for the past five years. Australia’s share in the global exports of live animals was 5.6% in 2011.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 21, 2012.

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