CANBERRA, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Australia's Agriculture Minister has flagged an end to the country's live sheep exports by sea.
Murray Watt on Friday appointed an independent panel to lead a six-month consultation process on the steps to the shutdown.
"Phasing out live sheep exports by sea is a complex issue that will impact farmers, businesses, our trading partners, and the communities that participate in the trade," he said.
"I am also conscious that the wider Australian community is interested in the phase-out, including those that want to see animal welfare maintained and improved."
The federal government has committed to ending live exports by sea after 2400 sheep died on a ship from Western Australia to the Middle East in 2017.
Live export numbers have fallen from 1.76 million sheep in 2016 to 662,630 in 2021, with Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Israel the biggest markets.
The trade is worth about 85 million Australian dollars (57.2 million U.S. dollars) to the economy every year.
Twenty five farming industry groups have signed a letter warning that a ban on live sheep exports would cost thousands of jobs.
"The policy represents a red line that cannot be crossed. We will never support legitimate agricultural industries being closed for political reasons, or to suit activist agendas," the letter said. ■