JOHANNESBURG - The damage being done to South Africa by predatory chicken imports from Brazil and other countries is reflected once again by the latest unemployment statistics revealed this week by StatsSA.
These imports are killing South African jobs, and preventing expansion of the chicken industry, which would create new jobs. It contributes to a national tragedy where 6.2 million South Africans of working age have no jobs and the unemployment rate is back at 27.6%, where it was in late 2017.
These figures reflect one of the highest unemployment rates in the word, and is nearing an all-time high, with around three million people having given up any hope of finding a job.
Some 12 000 agricultural jobs were lost in the last quarter. Black women, a significant component of the chicken industry, are particularly vulnerable, with an unemployment rate of 31%. Youth unemployment now exceeds 50%.
There are interventions that could alleviate this long-term problem, with economic growth way below the rate required to reduce the queues of the jobless. One sector which can make a difference in a very short period is the chicken industry, and it needs to move much higher up the government priority list.
The industry has for years has been trying persuade government both that it is under threat, with thousands of jobs at risk, and that it has considerable potential for growth, with significant job creation. Critically, it is estimated that poultry industry workers support up to 10 family members each – nationally that’s 1.1 million people – making a hugely significant contribution to social stability and economic sustainability in many vulnerable communities.
These issues have been under scrutiny by a government task team since 2016, but little real progress has been made. Government and the industry are now exploring a master plan to find ways of stabilising the industry and enabling it to grow, which would provide new jobs.
Both are urgent, and one has to look no further than the new unemployment statistics to see just how urgent.
Thousands of jobs have already been lost in the chicken industry because of an assault over nearly a decade by the European Union, and more lately, Brazil. Ever rising volumes of dumped and subsidised chicken have grown their share of our market to nearly 30%. The result has been industry contraction, retrenchments and a suspension of further private investment in expansion.
Putting a stop to this predatory trade is an essential step in tackling unemployment in South Africa.
The SA Poultry Association has estimated that 30 000 jobs would be created very quickly if imported chicken was replaced by local chicken, produced by local workers and benefiting local communities.
Instead, thousands more jobs are at risk because import volumes keep rising, in an assault that South Africa’s International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) has judged unfair trade. The local industry has applied for increased tariffs on a number of countries, including Brazil.
The tariff would already have been granted but for the delaying tactics of chicken importers, who are among those making huge profits from dumped chicken. The importers have sought an urgent interdict to halt and amend the application process, but their cynicism is revealed in their own admission that their primary objective is to delay the imposition of higher tariffs. This is an abuse of the legal system which FairPlay hopes the relevant courts will take into account.
ITAC and the departments of trade and industry, agriculture and health all need to address the issues facing the chicken industry with new vigour and urgency. They can stop the jobs losses in the chicken industry, and ensure conditions in which it can expand and grow to supply local and export markets, creating thousands of new jobs.
Poultry is one of the few industries which can help address South Africa’s massive jobless problem speedily and relatively easily. It should be an immediate government priority.
Francois Baird is the founder of the FairPlay movement.