Johannesburg – The Beverage Association of South Africa (BevSA) on Tuesday welcomed changes to the proposed Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) tax outlined in the Budget speech.

However, BevSA maintained its concerns about the negative economic impact, limited health gains, as well as inadequate baseline studies in a submission to National Treasury on the matter.

The Draft Rates and Monetary Amounts and Amendment Bill tabled in Parliament by the former Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan in February incorporates a tax on sugary beverages and represents the first indication of how Treasury's proposed Health Promotion Levy may manifest in law.

While acknowledging, and agreeing with World Health Organisation targets on sugar consumption, and supporting initiatives to reduce total sugar intake in a sustainable way, BevSA said it remained concerned that there had been disproportionate focus specifically on sugar in beverages as a source of calories.

BevSA executive director, Mapule Ncanywa said the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) and Parliamentary processes now in motion offered an opportunity for all interested parties to engage, and together develop an effective anti-obesity solution that would not lead to job losses while still meeting health objectives.

Ncanywa said in a statement that singling out one beverage category and taxing it punitively did not make sense even though the industry admits that obesity is a problem.

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"Surely such a win-win as a South African solution should be given an opportunity. To do this full consultation across unions, civil society, government and business is required and more information and research would assist such deliberation," Ncanywa said.

"We urge the Government to pause legislative action until such research is available and such engagement and consultation processes have run their course. We maintain that a total dietary study is absolutely necessary to clarify the key causes of obesity in South Africa and to establish a benchmark against which future improvements can be ascertained."

Ncwanywa said, while BevSA members committed to reducing the sugar content of their products, they requested that they be given a reasonable amount of time to do so prior to introduction of the tax. The organisation said the time-frames for implementation were especially challenging for smaller, local brands.