SA National Consumer Union (SANCU) and Emerging Black Importers and Exporters South Africa (EBieSA) representatives (from left to right): Nontwenhle Mchunu, founder and director of chicken importer company Mkabayi Group; Unati Speirs - chairperson of EBieSA; and Clif Johnston - vice-chair of SANCU, brief the media on the threat to the local poultry industry, food security and struggling consumers from from rising chicken imports. PHOTO: Siphelele Dludla/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG - The South African National Consumer Union (SANCU) warned on Wednesday that increasing tariffs on imported poultry products could hike local chicken prices by up to 32 percent.

The South African Poultry Association (SAPA) -- a lobby group which looks after the interests of large producers and whose members include RCL Foods, Astral Foods and Rainbow Chickens -- has applied to the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC) for import tariffs on chicken to increase to 82 percent.  

At a media briefing on Wednesday, SANCU and the Emerging Black Importers and Exporters South Africa (EBieSA) said this might put consumers under further financial strain and impact food security for the poor.

EBieSA chairperson Unati Speirs said SAPA's rationale was that imports were damaging the local industry, but said EBieSA believed the producers association only wanted to protect members' profits to the detriment of consumers and emerging black importers. 

Speirs said claims by SAPA that imports would destroy local jobs were not true as thousands of jobs depended on both the import and export market.  

"SAPA is creating the wrong impression that imports, no matter whether from Brazil, the US or EU, are negatively impacting the large local producers. This is not true. In 2018, some local producers posted bumper profits of more than R1.4 billion for the year," she said.

"What is true, is that this perception is being created in order to drive further protection for local producers, in an already concentrated and un-transformed market."

Speirs said slapping massive import tariff increases on imported poultry was the low road, and simply a way to shut down competition, especially from small, black owned businesses and importers.

SANCU vice-chairperson Clif Johnston said South African producers were only able to produce 70 percent of the chicken required to feed the country's consumers, with the remaining 30 percent imported from other countries.

Johnston said imports played a critical role in keeping chicken prices in check, benefiting consumers. 

"Chicken is the cheapest source of protein. For many consumers it is their sole source of protein, which they can only afford to buy occasionally. Any price increases in chicken result in extreme hardship for consumers," he said. 

"Our experience is that the imposition of import tariffs or the increase of existing tariffs eventually results in proportional increases in the price of the protected local commodities as paid by the consumer. If there is no price impact, why do it?"

- African New Agency (ANA)