MOGADISHU, July 3 (Reuters) - Somalia said on Thursday its economy would suffer if Saudi Arabia banned camel imports from the Horn of Africa nation over suspicions the animals could carry a potentially deadly virus and said it was ready to help find what caused the illness.
The Somali prime minister's office also said in a statement to Reuters that there had been no reported case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS in Somalia since the virus was first discovered in humans in 2012.
Senior Saudi scientist, Tariq Madani, told Reuters last week that Saudi Arabia suspected the virus may have arrived in camels from the Horn of Africa and could ban imports until it knows more. Somalia is a big livestock exporter to the kingdom.
"Since 2012 - when first discovered in Saudi Arabia - there has been no MERS case reported in Somalia," the Somali statement said. "Evidently any change to Somalia's ability to export its camels would have an economic impact."
"But more importantly, it is very important to find the cause of this virus and we would be very open to working with the World Health Organisation and other international partners to identify the cause and the solutions," it added.
MERS was first identified in humans in 2012 and is caused by a coronavirus from the same viral family as the one that caused a deadly outbreak of SARS in China in 2003. More than 700 people in Saudi Arabia have contracted it and 292 of them have died, according to latest data from the Saudi Health Ministry.
Somalia exported about 4.7 million animals to Saudi Arabia last year, a major source of income for a nation that is struggling to rebuild after more than two decades of conflict.
Goats and sheep account for about 80 percent of all exports from Somalia, with camels and some cattle making up the rest.
A previous Saudi ban on Somali livestock exports in 2000 - prompted by concerns at time about rinderpest and Rift Valley fever - hammered the economy before the ban was lifted in 2009.
Most shipments are made before the Muslim holidays of Eid el-Fitr - at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan which began this week - and Eid al-Adha which follows a few weeks later. A ban now would hit a period when exports start climbing.
Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Alison Williams