Cape Town - The opposition Democratic Alliance on Monday slammed the failure by the South African government to meet the deadline set by the United States to comply with the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) agreement as a “failure of political leadership”.
South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies earlier on Monday admitted that negotiations were now “in extra time” but said progress was being made in ongoing talks for the country to continue enjoying Agoa benefits.
But the DA slammed news that South Africa had missed the January 4 deadline set by US President Barack Obama in November as evidence that SA President Jacob Zuma and Davies “simply aren’t interested in the South African economy”.
“If they were, they would never have allowed this to happen,” DA MPs Geordin Hill-Lewis and and Wilmot James said in a statement.
“The coming exclusion of South Africa’s agricultural exports from AGOA benefits is bleak news for our economy, and is the worst possible way to begin 2016,” they said. “It is especially bleak for South African farmers and farm workers who are already suffering from the worst drought in decades.
“This is a failure of political leadership by Minister Davies, Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi and, ultimately, President Zuma. When, not if, unemployment goes up and farms close down due to this missed deadline, Minister Davies will have to take the blame.”
The DA further said that Davies’ stance that a deal was very close and that just a few more days were needed had been “his line since July 2015”.
“It is just not credible anymore,” they said. “The fact is that the negotiations have been in ‘extra time’ for at least 4 months. He should not have allowed it to go so far. If the original October timeline had been honoured, we would not be in this position today. Instead, through rank tardiness and lack of leadership, every single deadline has been missed, with grave consequences for our economy.”
The DA also slammed Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, saying he had had more than enough time to put credible proposals together on how to protect South Africans from threats to human health by animal-born pathogens.
“It would’ve been a simple application of the mind to get both South Africa and the USA to have animal or plant based food products conform to global health norms,” the DA said. “But it is not a science problem. It is a problem of poor planning and inter-ministerial dysfunctionality.”
Earlier, Davies, briefing media in Pretoria, said: “We have in place an avian influenza certificate already issued on our side. We have in place the rules for the administration of the tariff quota, at least an interim arrangement. For all practical purposes, we can say we have concluded on the pork issue.”
Davies said the outstanding matter was around the bacterial disease Salmonella.
“As we sit now, we recognise that we are in extra time. We are past full-time but the whistle at this moment hasn’t been blown. We are hoping the whistle will not be blown to give our veterinary authorities, on both sides, an opportunity to engage again,” said Davies.
“The work will continue whether the whistle is blown or not. The consequences of the whistle being blown will be that certain products that are currently enjoying access (to the US market) under Agoa, that is agricultural products, will be excluded and we have to see the terms of that exclusion.”
South Africa had until Monday to remove barriers preventing imports of US chicken, pork, and beef, or lose the duty-free benefits for its agricultural exports under Agoa.
South Africa exported $176-million worth of agricultural products to the US last year, mainly citrus and wine.