Saudi Suspends Ethiopian Livestock, Meat Imports

ethiopian_livestockAddis Ababa, Ethiopia: (Addis Fortune) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has suspended imports of Ethiopian livestock and meat products from entering its market, sources disclosed.

Though the Embassy of the Kingdom in Addis Abeba said that the action by pertinent organs of the oil-rich gulf state cannot be considered a ban, it nonetheless confirmed, in a written reply to Fortune’s queries, that meat imports from Ethiopia have been stopped and will only resume after making sure that certain requirements are met by Ethiopia.

The issue came to light after the area manager of Ethiopian Air Lines (Ethiopian) in Jeddah received the decision on the suspension by the Ministry of Commerce of Saudi Arabia through Saudi Cargo Import Section, according to sources at Ethiopian.

The written communication Ethiopian’s Area Manager in Jeddah sent to his bosses in Addis Abeba on March 4, 2009, states that the Airlines’ cargo fleet had been allowed to transport a last consignment of meat exports from Ethiopia to Saudi on flight number ET412 of March 6, 2009. That marked the start of the suspension of Ethiopia’s meat export to Saudi, until further notice, and subsequently led to a supply surplus at home.

The next day (March 5, 2009), the responsible department at Ethiopian, in turn, sent a message to Ethiopian Meat Producers, Exporters Association (EMPEA) stating that meat exports to Saudi had been suspended, and they could only export their products on the following day, according to Tamrat Ejigu, secretary general of EMPEA.

“Due to their [the Saudis] decision without warning us earlier, we were forced to sell our products at cheaper prices because we already had prepared large consignments to send to the Kingdom,” Tamrat told Fortune

Though the Kingdom’s reason for suspending Ethiopian meat imports were not clearly stated, the paper from the Embassy says that it is because of some conditions which were contrary to the regulations as regards the sanitation of the slaughtered meat.

However, insect control, refrigerator temperature levels and the quality of roads to slaughterhouses are also factors people involved cite as additional reasons, although the main reason seems beyond these factors, sources told Fortune.

A committee from the pertinent organs in the Kingdom had found some problems while visiting the abattoirs of those that export meat to the Kingdom, and have informed these abattoirs to address these problems.

“Failing to export to our biggest meat importer, Saudi Arabia, for almost the last three weeks means a big loss for us,” an official of the meat exporting enterprise said.

All exporters have been trying to do what is expected from them since the suspension began.

“We are told that the case is being handled by both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD), and we are now waiting for any development on it,” the official told Fortune.

Beyond affecting the earnings of exporters, the workforce in the sector and even the Ethiopian, the suspension of meat exports to Saudi is likely to be among the factors that could worsen the current foreign exchange crunch in the country, the manager added.

After Saudi’s decision to suspend the imports, Ethiopian government officials have been negotiating with those of the Kingdom on possible solutions, according to knowledgeable sources.

For instance, MoFA has sent a report on the matter to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Addis, following which diplomats at the embassy notified the officials in their homeland about the report, according to the written response sent to Fortune. The report states that the abattoirs identified have since addressed the problems which Saudi officials said were contrary to the regulations.

As the embassy confirmed, the Saudi committee is expected to visit Ethiopia to re-inspect these abattoirs.

“If the committee assures that all the shortcomings have been fixed, then meat imports will be permitted again,” the letter sent to Fortune reads.

These are actions necessary to make sure of the sanitation and safety of the food items that reach the Saudi market.

From the meat and meat products Ethiopia has exported to the world market in the first half the current Ethiopian fiscal year, exports to the Kingdom’s accounted for about 1.6 million kilograms or around 39pc of the total figure.

Ethiopian Meat and Dairy Institute (EMDI) disclosed last week that the country plans to increase the supply of meat and meat products from the current 6,000tn annually to 30,000tn.

Last year, Ethiopia earned over 56 million dollars from the export of more than 295,000 livestock and 6,000tn of meat products. In addition, from livestock and meat exports, the country earned 48.2 million dollars in the first half of the current Ethiopian financial year, according to Amaha Sebsibe (PhD), director general of EMDI.

Currently, Ethiopia has 44 million cattle, 46 million sheep and goats and three million camels.

The bulk of the total meat Ethiopia exported in 2006/07 went to Saudi Arabia and UAE. The two Gulf states accounted for slightly over 2.8 million kilograms (48.11pc) and 2.6 million kilograms (45.5pc), respectively, of the total over 5.8 million kilograms of meat exported, according to data from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Years back, Ethiopia’s livestock and meat exports to Saudi had been banned because of the spread of Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in the supplier’s land; the ban was lifted on August 23, 2003.