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A summary of 2023 Australian live exports

01 February 2024

Key points:

  • 2023 live exports by sea lifted to 670,791 head for cattle and 593,514 head for sheep.
  • Live cattle export numbers to Indonesia remained stable in 2023, lifting 6% year-on-year to 359,305.
  • December 2023 was the first month Australian live sheep were exported to Saudi Arabia in over a decade, receiving 5,000 head.

Cattle exports by sea

Live cattle exports by sea lifted 12% or 73,612 from 597,179 in 2022 to 670,791 in 2023. This is the first annual lift in export numbers since 2019, but remains 27% below the 914,024 head five-year average.

December was a positive month for the live export trade, totaling 86,186 head for the month. This was up 44% on November figures (59,816) and up 49% on December 2022 numbers (57,926) making it the largest export month for 2023, and the largest December figure since 2019.

Indonesia remained the top importer of live cattle by sea in 2023, with 359,305, or 54% of live exports going into their predominantly feeder market. These numbers remained relatively stable year-on-year, rising just 6%. Following reports in October and November of cattle being held up at Australian ports for lesions, despite no lumpy skin disease present in Australia, exports to Indonesia rebounded 144% month-to-month in December.

Vietnam imported 19% of total live cattle exports by sea, or 126,930, split between slaughter, breeder and feeder cattle, a 118% increase to 2022 exports to the country. China imported 12% of exports at 78,723, a 44% drop on 2022 export numbers. Israel has the largest year-to-year shift lifting export numbers by 149% to 68,393 head, 10% of total live cattle exports by sea.

Countries importing the remaining 6% (37,440) were Malaysia, Jordan, Brunei Darussalam, Sarawak, Thailand, Sabah, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

Sheep exports by sea

In 2023, live sheep exports by sea lifted 22% or 107,191 head to 593,514. This is the only annual lift live sheep export numbers have had in the last five years and the largest year since 2020. Despite this near one-fifth lift, this figure remains 23% below the 771,849 five-year average.

Similar to cattle exports, 2023 was buoyed by December exports. Live sheep exports by sea were 84,430 over December. A 177% increase to November exports (58,732), and 44% on December 2022 exports (30,531). The largest month in 2023 for sheep exports was January with 99,160 sheep exported by sea, the largest January export figure since 2019.

For the fourth year in a row, Kuwait was the largest importer of live Australian sheep by sea, receiving 271,162 head in 2023 making up 46% of total sheep exports. This is 8% below 2022 and 15% below 2021 numbers. Kuwait was followed by Israel, importing 16% of live sheep exports, or 94,000 feeder animals. Jordan, the third largest importer of sheep in 2023, had the largest jump in exports, increasing by 411%, or 84,376 head year-on-year. The UAE, Oman and Qatar remained in the mix, importing a combined 25% (143,876) of the market.

December 2023 was the first month that Australian live sheep were exported to Saudi Arabia in over a decade. Saudi Arabia would import around a million sheep annually before trade stopped. The first month of exports to Saudi Arabia had 5,000 slaughter sheep exported, making up just under 6% of exports for the month.