While the rest of the gulf has been relatively buoyant for Australian exporters, these two countries have seen significant declines in imports in recent years.
Last year the Middle East accounted for 10% of Australia's total agricultural exports, totalling AU$4.1bn. Saudi Arabia was the largest regional importer, at AU$811m, mainly consisting of barley, wheat and lamb and beef products.
The region is by far the largest market for Australian live sheep exports, accounting for 98% of total exports, with 1.93 million animals coming to the Middle East in 2013. Kuwait was the largest market, importing 876,000 live sheep last year.
But the last few years have seen livestock exports to the region suffer, following concerns over diseased animals. Saudi Arabia did not import any live Australian sheep last year, and only took 69,000 in 2012, down from 262,500 in 2010.
And from exporting 500,000 animals to Bahrain in 2010, Australian producers suspended live sheep exports in August 2012, following the refusal of a shipment of 20,000 sheep said to be infected with ‘scabby mouth’. However recent negotiations saw Bahrain and Australia resume imports of Australian animals.
Another issue has been requirements for importers to track and monitor animals up to the point of slaughter, under Australia's Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), designed to protect the welfare of live animals exported from Australia. Reports suggested Middle Eastern importers found these requirements to be too demanding.
“These are prime markets for the growth of Australian exports. An example of this is the recent recommencement of the livestock export trade to Bahrain, which was great news for Australian sheep producers,” said Joyce.
“This is a business delegation designed to build on the progress we have already made in this important part of the world. This visit will not only raise Australia's agricultural profile, but it will enable important discussions on Australia's market access relationships in agricultural and food products.”