Research Report

Impact of the live sheep export trade's self-imposed moratorium and regulatory changes

Brief summary

The export of live sheep contributes significantly to the Australian economy, especially in Western Australia (WA). The industry is made up of a range of suppliers and service providers, as well as the farmers who supply the sheep and the exporters themselves.

Live sheep exports to the Middle East were halted from June to September 2018 following the airing of distressing footage on television. Exporters self-imposed a moratorium in 2019 to manage the risk of heat stress during the northern summer, which was later mandated and extended by the regulator.

This phase of the project examined how the 3-4 month halt in exports affected people and businesses involved in the trade. It involved interviews with more than 60 participants along the supply chain and a desktop analysis. It also examined changes to sheep delivery rates following the introduction of new regulations and management practices.


This project aimed to create a series of reports to:

  • Identify the economic benefit that flows from the live sheep export trade to farmers and other businesses in Australia (report here)

  • Provide an economic analysis of the industry’s self-imposed three-month moratorium on exporting sheep to the Middle East in the northern hemisphere summer (this report)

  • Provide an analysis of farm-level decisions which influence the size of the sheep flock nationally and in Western Australia (report here).

Objectives for this phase included:

  • Analysis of sheep delivery success rates and the impact that regulatory changes have had on sheep mortality and welfare.

  • An assessment of the impact to the live sheep export industry of the suspension to the trade in 2018 and the moratorium during 2019, in terms of foregone revenue.

  • The impact of the key regulatory changes and the moratorium across the live sheep export supply chain within Western Australia.

Key findings (phase 2)
  • The reduction in live sheep exports during June to October 2018 is estimated to have cost the industry $83.6 million in lost revenue nationally.

  • The moratorium during the 2019 season is estimated to have cost the industry $65.8 million in foregone revenue nationally.

  • Sheep producers have some ability to adjust their management if a moratorium continues and sell into domestic markets. However, the industry also supports participants such as livestock carriers, shearers and feed suppliers and manufacturers. Many are highly reliant on livestock exports and may consider moving on if year-round work is not available.

  • Mortality rates on live sheep shipments for each month in 2019 were half the average for that month over the period 2013 to 2017. This is put down to changes to shipping practices during and since 2018, including reduced stocking densities and the introduction of Independent Observers, as well as the moratorium.

Benefits to industry

This analysis provides a clearer understanding to policy makers and the industry of how the 3-4 month annual halt to the live sheep trade has affected the economic wellbeing of the full supply chain, as well as the social and emotional impact on both workers and regional communities.

Impact of the live sheep export trade's self-imposed moratorium and regulatory changes
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