New Zealand trade officials are watching the escalating trade war between the US and China with mounting concern and anxiety.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has hired Queen’s Council Mike Heron, assisted by retired Rear Admiral Tony Parr, to do a review of the live animal trade to all destinations. This follows the recent sinking of the China-bound Gulf Livestock 1 with 43 crew, including two New Zealanders, and 6000 animals aboard.
In a carefully worded response to questions by Rural News, MPI’s deputy director general Karen Adair noted that as the agency that issues Animal Welfare Export Certificates (AWEC’s) for live shipments, MPI needs to do “all it can to ensure people and animals on livestock export boats are safe”.
Adair says the sinking of the Gulf Livestock 1 was an absolute tragedy and it is the right thing to do to have an independent review of the assurances MPI receives for the safe transport of livestock by sea. She says the review by Heron covers all livestock shipments – not just those to China.
The Heron review will focus on the documentation lodged by exporters, including the loading of the vessel and the voyage to its final destination. It will also look at voyage reports of ships over the past two years, the conventions, laws and rules relating to shipping safety, risk management profiles of specific vessels and the history of their flag states, owners, operators and the exporters that use them.
Adair says the reviewers will also speak to exporters and other relevant parties.
While the outcome of Heron’s review won’t be known for at least a month, the fate of other shipments to China – and other parts of the world – remains on hold. At present, 28,000 head of cattle are on quarantine farms around the country. Adair told Rural News MPI is having regular meetings with the exporters and says they will continue to work constructively to ensure all animal welfare requirements are met.
“The exporters are monitoring the condition of the stock and are in frequent contact with MPI. There are legal requirements and obligations under the Animal Welfare Act that ensure animals’ needs are met by the person in charge of animals,” she says. “The exporters advise that there is enough feed in these facilities and the environmental conditions are good and the animals’ needs are well managed.”
While the animals are fine now, what’s not quite so clear is what happens if the review finds that MPI should put a further, or permanent, halt to live animal exports. What has not been talked about publicly is what might happen to these animal should that scenario eventuate.
When asked about the issue of compensation to farmers or exporters, MPI was quick to point out that the Animal Welfare Act, which it administers, does not contain any provision for compensation. MPI point out that “shipments of livestock are subject to commercial contracts between farmers, exporters and shipping firms,” – which seems to suggest that this will be an insurance matter.
MPI says, apart from the 28,000 cattle destined for China, they are aware of other shipments that were being planned but has received no formal applications for these.
Heron’s inquiry is about the sinking of the Gulf Livestock 1, it is quite separate from a wider review of live animal export shipments, which has already been completed and is due to go to cabinet after the election. However, it’s understood that Heron’s work may help inform final advice to government regarding the larger review.