Live Export 2: A Current Affair

Livestock | 14th May 2024 | By Matt Dalgleish

Live Sheep Export Special Edition

This article is part of a series focusing on the live sheep export trade and the recent decision by the Australian Government to phase out the trade by May 2028.

In 2023 there was 650,717 head of sheep exported live from Australia to offshore destinations. These annual flows represent a 29% increase in the trade volumes seen in 2022 and the highest flows have been since 2020, indicating that demand still exists globally in this sector, particularly when Australian prices are competitive.

So far in the first quarter of 2024 the trade has seen 225,932 sheep transported live to offshore destinations, which is a further 15% increase on the first quarter trade volumes from 2023 and the best start to the season since 2020, when 294,026 sheep were exported. Indeed, February and March 2024 have seen average monthly flows sit at around 105,000 head which is nearly 27% higher than the average monthly flows seen during this period based on the volumes reported shipped last five years of the trade.

In terms of percentage market share of the trade so far in 2024 we have seen a decline in the proportions going to Kuwait and a lift in shipments to Jordan. In 2023 Kuwait took nearly 42% of the live sheep exports leaving Australia, so far in 2024 this share has eased to around 26%. Meanwhile the proportion of the sheep export flows from Australia to Jordan have increased from 16% to 31%, making Jordan the current top destination for live sheep exports from Australia. Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are locked in a battle for 3rd and 4th top trade destination for 2024 sitting on 12.3% and 12.0% of the total Australian export volumes, respectively.

A summary of the top four trade destinations for Australian live sheep exports is outlined below:

  • Jordan – The 2024 season started slowly for Jordan with no trade from Australia noted in January. However, the trade picked up later in the quarter with 17,610 shipped in February and 52,209 transported in March. Compared to the volumes sent during the first quarter of 2023 the live sheep trade from Australia to Jordan in 2024 is running 225% higher and is 115% stronger than the five-year seasonal flows based on the last five-years of the trade.
  • Kuwait – Like Jordan, Kuwait saw no trade flows from Australia in January 2024. However, February registered 33,411 sheep exported from Australia to Kuwait and March saw 26,201 head shipped. Compared to the first quarter of 2023 the flows to Kuwait for Q1 2024 are 28% softer. Compared to the Q1 five-year average flows the trade from Australia to Kuwait is running nearly 36% weaker.
  • Israel – The first quarter of 2023 saw some very strong export volumes from Australia to Israel but the trade has started softer in 2024. Q1 this year has seen 27,809 head shipped from Australia to Israel, 14,068 sheep in January, nothing in February and 13,741 head in March. Compared to the five-year average trend for Q1 these current flows represent levels that are only around 5% below the average seasonal trend.
  • UAE – The United Arab Emirates was another Middle Eastern trade destination that started Q1 2024 in a reserved manner with no sheep reported shipped in January. However, February saw 12,000 head shipped from Australia to the UAE and March reported 15,172 live sheep exported.  A comparison to Q1 2023 shows these current volumes to the UAE are 81% stronger and compared to the Q1 five-year average trade volumes the current flows are 50% higher.

The 2024 season saw the return of Saudi Arabia as a live sheep export destination for Australia after more than a decade of no trade occurring, which has helped underpin the volumes going to “other” destinations outside of the top four countries listed above. Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of live sheep globally so the re-introduction of the trade from Australia has made a significant impact so far in 2024.

During the first quarter of 2024 there were 41,250 head of sheep shipped from Australia to “other” destinations, which is a 58% lift on the volumes that were sent during Q1 2023. Around 55% of these sheep destined for these “other” destinations were sent to Saudi Arabia, so their return is having a noticeable influence on the Australian live sheep export volumes.

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