Local wool industry rattled by China’s ban on wool imports from South Africa

Livelihoods of sheep shearers and wool handlers threaten by China’s ban on on wool imports from South Africa. Martin Bureau

Livelihoods of sheep shearers and wool handlers threaten by China’s ban on on wool imports from South Africa. Martin Bureau

Published Aug 13, 2022


Cape Town - The local wool business is being rattled by China's response to the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreaks following a ban on wool exports to China.

This comes after Agri SA and the National Wool Growers’ Association of South Africa (NWGA) raised concerns about the ban, citing that the value of the South Africa wool clip is around R5 billion per annum, and since the ban was announced in April, the South African wool industry has thus far lost an estimated R734 million in wool exports to China.

NWGA General Manager Leon de Beer said that the ban was unwarranted and had threatened the livelihoods of the industry’s 35 000 workers as well as 4 500 seasonal sheep shearers and wool handlers.

“The ban is unwarranted since South Africa has protocols in place that regulate the storage of wool after shearing for a specified time at required minimum temperatures as stipulated by the terrestrial code of the World Organisation of Animal Health (WOAH). These measures were negotiated with Chinese Authorities during the 2019 outbreak to limit the disruption to trade in circumstances such as the current one.

“All export facilities in South Africa have been registered with the Chinese authorities to ensure proper monitoring and accurate certification. Furthermore, though wool sheep are, like all cloven-hoofed animals, susceptible to be infected by FMD, no outbreaks have been recorded in recognised wool producing areas nor have any small stock been diagnosed with FMD,” said De Beer.

With the first wool auction for the 2022/23 season is scheduled for 17 August, Agri SA Executive Director Christo Van der Rheede said that the ban would have a devastating effect on the local wool industry because 70-80% of the South African clip is traditionally destined for China.

“We are concerned about the emerging and communal wool producing sector in particular, as most of their clip is destined for export to China. More than 40 000 small-scale producers market close to six million kg of wool annually, valued at an estimated R300 million. These producers and surrounding communities will fall back into poverty should the Chinese market remain closed for wool from South Africa. Many commercial wool sheep producers have only recently emerged from an extended period of drought, and if wool exports to China cannot resume due to the ban, these farmers may not survive.

“With the auction date looming for the country’s wool, it is essential that Ministers Thoko Didiza and Ebrahim Patel intervene to secure the industry’s access to the Chinese market. Failure to act will have devastating consequences for the industry’s workers and for small-scale producers, in particular. Agri SA and NWGA can only trust that the South African authorities will make every effort to address this issue with the Chinese authorities as a matter of urgency. South African wool is safe for export, and we must resolve this matter quickly for the sake of the livelihoods on the line,” said Van der Rheede.

Given this, Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo said that there are still negotiations taking place at this point to lift the ban as the ban is not scientifically justifiable.

“We agree with industry that the ban of wool export by China is not scientifically justifiable hence we are still negotiating with the Chinese authorities to have South African wool allowed. Our attaché in China as well as the Ambassador are trying all they can to persuade Chinese Authorities to play their part of our protocol that we have with them.

Our Chief Veterinary Officer has this week written to his counterpart to allay their concerns about possible importation of FMD into China through export of wool. The challenge is that Chinese Authorities didn’t communicate much. We have answered all their questions and have sent them a quality assurance video at their request,” said Ngcobo.