New Zealand will cease the export of livestock by sea following a transition period of up to two years, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced on Wednesday.
“At the heart of our decision is upholding New Zealand’s reputation for high standards of animal welfare. We must stay ahead of the curve in a world where animal welfare is under increasing scrutiny,” Damien O’Connor said.
This decision will affect some farmers, exporters and importers, and a transition period will enable the sector to adapt, he added.
Live exports by sea represent about 0.2% of New Zealand’s primary sector exports revenue since 2015. O’Connor said officials had spoken to key trading partners about the decision.
“I recognise the importance of our trade relationships with our international partners and we’re committed to working with them as we transition away from the shipment of livestock,” said O’Connor in a statement.
He said at a news conference that officials had spoken to China and Australia about the decision.
Asked if there were concerns that the move would upset China, a top importer of live cattle from New Zealand, he said, “This is not about China. It’s about animal welfare and our reputation.”
Last year, New Zealand introduced new measures for the safe transport of livestock and said it was reviewing live exports after a ship that left its shores for China with nearly 6,000 cows and 43 crew members capsized.
O’Connor said responses were mixed in the review. Improvements had been made to the practice in recent years, but despite everyone’s best efforts, the long journeys to northern hemisphere markets always pose animal welfare challenges, he noted.
“We have not been able to guarantee the safety of these animals at sea and that’s an unacceptable risk for New Zealand.”
The value of New Zealand’s livestock exports has averaged around NZ$60 million ($42.32 million) per year from 2015 to 2019. The value of livestock exports increased dramatically after the 2019 announcement of the review to NZ$261 million for the year ending December 2020. New Zealand exported 113,285 cattle by sea last year.