Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admits to having 'significant concerns' about live cattle exports

Jacinda Ardern admitted on Tuesday she has "significant concerns" about live exports and said she "wouldn't rule out" an outright ban on the practice.

The Government has faced increasing pressure to stop the export of live cattle after the ship Gulf Livestock 1 sank in the East China Sea last month. 

The vessel, which departed Napier in August bound for China, was carrying nearly 6000 cattle and also had two New Zealander crew members onboard.

Following the ship's sinking, the Government placed a temporary ban on live exports, but animal rights groups say there needs to be a permanent halt to the practice. 

When asked on The AM Show on Tuesday whether the Government would ban live exports, the Prime Minister said a final call hadn't been made but "I wouldn't rule it out".

"I have significant concerns about live exports, I think a number of us do, but I do just want to make sure that as a team we sit down and go back through some of the impacts of those decisions," Ardern said.

"There are some animals in quarantine at the moment, I don't know what their future would be if they weren't exported, here in New Zealand, so there's a few things to work through. 

"I wouldn't rule it out."

More than 20,000 animals due to be exported before the ban came into effect are currently being kept in special containment areas while their fate is decided.

Last year the Government launched a review of live exports, but Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor in August said a decision had been held up due to COVID-19.

As well as implementing the temporary ban after the Gulf Livestock 1 incident, the Ministry for Primary Industries also launched an independent review, led by Mike Heron QC, into the assurances it receives over the safe transport of livestock at sea.

Despite the findings of that review yet to be made, O'Connor last month unveiled a policy that would partially reverse the temporary ban if Labour are elected into Government in the upcoming election. 

"Given the Heron advice, the director-general of agriculture will be in a position (after that date) to make calls on whether animals can be moved offshore," O'Connor told RNZ at the time.

"But it will be conditional, it will not be going back to where it was, and there may be changes in those conditions."