Chinese Ambassador Lin Songtian addressing the media in Pretoria
Within one month of the meeting between President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Xi Jinping at the G20, China has announced that it is lifting the ban on South African beef exports to China. This will be a major boost to South Africa’s economy given that China is the largest consuming market for South African beef and related products.

Due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in January this year, South Africa lost its status recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health as a FMD-free zone. Many countries, including China, had no choice but to ban imports of cloven-hoofed animals and products from South Africa. This resulted in a serious loss to South Africa’s agricultural industry, and President Ramaphosa made a special request to China to allow it to resume exports of beef, animal skins, and wool to China as soon as possible.

The Chinese embassy has worked hard with DIRCO and the Department of Agriculture to find a solution, and Chinese Ambassador Lin Songtian led staff to the affected areas and local abattoirs, and sent a series of messages to the Chinese Government. In May China took a decision to lift the ban on imports of wool and animal skins, and in June it sent an expert team to South Africa to study FMD.

On July 23 the Chinese Government announced that it was lifting the ban on cloven-hoofed animals and related products from South Africa, except from the limited areas affected in Limpopo, Ehlanzeni in Mpumalanga, and Umkhanyakude in KZN.

“China’s decision to lift the ban despite the fact that the OIE has not resumed the status of an FMD-free zone sends a message to the international community and is a challenge to the OIE to speed up the procedure to resume South Africa’s status, and has encouraged other countries to resume beef imports,’ Lin said.

With a population of 1.4 billion people, 400 million of which are middle income, China is a huge market for South Africa’s agricultural products. China imports approximately 2 million tons of beef imports from around the globe, although last year only 10,000 tons came from South Africa.

“There is no limit to the amount of beef China can import from South Africa, and so far the quantity of beef being exported to China from South Africa hasn’t met the demand,” Ambassador Lin said, “We are encouraging the local communities in South Africa to raise more cows, and we could even look at a pilot project in a village to work with the local people to raise more cows and cultivate the land.”

Food security is a big concern to China, and it would welcome increased levels of agricultural exports from South Africa, after the country has satisfied its own local demand. “Our seasons are complimentary – when it is the Chinese lunar New Year festival which is a time of much consumption, it is harvest season in South Africa,” Lin said. Lin is keen to see more beef, chicken, mutton and fruit exports going to China, and has promised to encourage more Chinese investors to come to the country.