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Poultry row: Zuma urged to intervene

President Jacob Zuma. File picture: Dumisani Sibeko

President Jacob Zuma. File picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Published Sep 15, 2015


Johannesburg - US Senators Chris Coons and Johnny Isakson have again written to President Jacob Zuma, urging him to open up the South African market to US poultry “expeditiously” to avoid South Africa losing lucrative export benefits to the US.

Coons of Delaware and Isakson of Georgia both represent major poultry-producing states. They wrote their latest urgent appeal to Zuma as agricultural and trade officials from the US and SA were meeting in Pretoria to try to resolve the protracted dispute over US meat imports.

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At stake is South Africa’s continued enjoyment of trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which last year allowed $1.6 billion worth of South African exports into the US market duty-free.

AGOA, which was due to expire on September 30, was renewed earlier this year. But Coons and Isakson were instrumental in ensuring that South Africa would only continue to enjoy the benefits if it let in US meat exports - especially poultry - which have been blocked for several years.

In June this year the two sides agreed in Paris on an annual quota of 65 000 tons of US poultry. But South Africa continued to block the poultry imports, citing concerns about an outbreak of avian flu in the US.

Pretoria has also maintained its long ban on imports of US pork and beef, also on health grounds.

The veterinary experts from both sides are trying to thrash out those concerns in their meeting in Pretoria.

Coons and Isakson wrote to Zuma that the Paris agreement had been welcome news to the entire US poultry industry. But they were disappointed that there had been no progress in addressing South Africa’s complete ban on US poultry due to avian flu.

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They pointed out that the review by the US Administration into South Africa’s continued eligibility for AGOA was “another reason for swift action to be taken by South Africa”.

The two senators last wrote to Zuma in December, in the long poultry saga.

The US is asking South Africa to “regionalise” imports of US poultry - that is to ban poultry imports only from those areas where avian flu has broken out. But so far South Africa has insisted it will not import any poultry from the US until the whole country is free of avian flu.

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Speaking before the meeting, Dr Eric Coleman of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), said: “Avian influenza is a global problem, not just a United States problem, and it’s important that trading partners as well as the international community work together on it. We welcome the opportunity to continue the discussion and to achieve resolution to several long-standing issues.”

Dr Mark Davidson, also of the USDA, said: “We have 100 trading partners around the world that have taken no action against the US in regard to poultry trade and we have 38 partners who have implemented regionalisation.

“It is a worldwide standard that we have implemented, which has enabled us to safely trade poultry and poultry products.”

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He added: “We are hopeful that we will be able to resolve the final technical issues that will allow us to begin the trade of poultry with South Africa again.”

Coleman and Davidson are both from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services - Veterinary Services, National Import and Export Services (APHIS-VS NIES) which deals with animal diseases as they relate to trade.

The US embassy in Pretoria said in a statement before the meeting that: “Eliminating barriers to trade in poultry, pork, and beef will address issues under consideration in an out-of-cycle review process of South Africa’s status under AGOA, will directly support South Africa’s goals of achieving enhanced food security, and will benefit South African consumers with broader selection and lower prices.”

The “out of cycle review process” which the statement referred to is the investigation which the US administration launched at the direction of the US Congress to determine if South Africa should continue to enjoy AGOA benefits when the current version of the legislation expires on September 30.

It is because of this looming deadline that the officials from both sides are meeting today.

Under the next AGOA legislation adopted earlier this year, the US can decide to keep South Africa in the programme, but can deny it specific benefits. The biggest items of South African exports to the US under AGOA last year were autos ($1.3 billion), though citrus and wine are also major exports.


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