The History of Live Export

Australia has been an exporter of livestock for well over one hundred years, and the trade has continued to expand in importance and deliver economic benefits to rural communities and the national economy. The live export industry is an important component of the Australian agricultural sector and contributes an average of $1 billion in export earnings annually to the Australian economy. The industry also employs approximately 13,000 people, mainly in regional and rural Australia and provides significant employment opportunities to indigenous people across northern Australia.


Australia is the major, and in some cases the sole supplier of livestock to particular overseas markets. A number of countries do not have the resources to produce enough livestock to feed their population and as a result they rely heavily on Australian livestock for their food security and in some cases social harmony.

Australia’s livestock producers were amongst the nation’s first exporters, with live animal shipments dating back to 1829. The opening of large cattle stations in the Northern Territory and Kimberley in the 1880s was driven by the potential of exports to Asian markets. The importance of the live export industry to regional communities is amplified in northern and western Australia where livestock production has been transformed to meet the requirements of south-east Asian and Middle Eastern markets. For many producers in these areas the industry is the only source of income and they supply the majority of live animals for export (approximately 75% of sheep from Western Australia and 80% of cattle from Northern Australia).

From its earliest days, the industry intended to deliver well-conditioned livestock to foreign markets. From the early 1800s to today, losses of animals in transit mean reduced profits. The desire to improve conditions of transport and to understand the dynamics of successful shipments has underpinned ongoing industry research and guides investment in new ships and on-board infrastructure.

The live export industry is underpinned by a detailed and rigorous regulatory framework. Together, producers and exporters invest significantly in research, development and extension (RD&E) to drive efficiencies and animal welfare improvements across the entire supply chain.

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