PRETORIA - The South African government on Tuesday assured thousands of sugarcane farmers who descended on Pretoria in a massive protest led by the South African Sugar Association (Sasa) and the SA Farmers Development Association (Safda) that their ailing sector will be protected.
“Firstly, I just want to say as government we are disturbed by the plight of the industry plus the suffering that is taking place. We know that that there has been big imports of sugar from Brazil, India, and the UAE. Lots of sugar have come into the country, and this industry is bleeding. We know and understand that,” department of trade and industry (dti) director-general Lionel October addressed the thousands of protesters.
The aggrieved farmers from KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga were unhappy about massive sugar imports, which they claimed were the preferred ingredients by companies and which has left local sugar producers on the edge.
The farmers requested the government to impose higher tariffs on sugar imports, in a bid to save and protect the local farmers.
October said dti Minister Rob Davies, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel and Minister of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana were already discussing the matter.
“We did have a meeting, about three weeks ago, with Minister Davies, Minister Patel and Minister Zokwana, to look at this problem. I have just spoken to the commission which is looking at the tariff application, and looking at putting on more protection for the industry. I have just spoken to the commissioner and he said they are fast-tracking this matter. Actually, he said today [Tuesday] they are sitting in a meeting to consider the application from the sugar industry,” said October.
SASA chairman Suresh Naidoo said the South African sugar industry, was currently “under siege” and made a direct contribution of more than R15 billion to the economy.
“Should this import trend continue, as it is now, three mills will have to close down, and the results will be catastrophic – jobs, economic activity, and livelihoods will be dismantled. In the 2017/18 season, the duty paid on imports of more than 500,000 tonnes [of sugar] translated to the local industry losing more than R2, 3 billion in revenue,” he said.
The sugar industry said the existing dollar-based reference price and the variable tariff formula -- which are aimed to protect local producers -- were no longer effective, as exemplified by the massive spike in sugar imports.
.- African News Agency (ANA)