As the deadline looms for South Africa to remove the barriers preventing imports of US chicken, pork, and beef, or lose the duty-free benefits for its agricultural exports under the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), ministers are set to provide an update on the negotiations on Monday.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi are expected to address the media on the matter at 1pm in Pretoria.
Last month, Davies had a bilateral meeting with his US counterpart Michael Froman on the sidelines of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
Both ministers committed to working together to resolve the meat dispute. They said their officials would continue to engage constructively to “finalise the last few outstanding issues”.
However, last week it appeared that South Africa looked set to lose the lucrative duty-free access for its agricultural exports to the US after officials from both governments failed to reach agreement on outstanding trade issues in a meeting earlier on Thursday.
US and SA trade and veterinary experts held a last-ditch telephonic conference to try to remove the last barriers preventing imports of US chicken, pork, and beef.
It is almost certain the January 4 deadline for removing the barriers will be missed, which would see South Africa lose duty-free benefits for its agricultural exports under the Agoa.
South Africa exported $176-million worth of agricultural products to the US last year, mainly citrus and wine.
It is not clear how much its exports would be reduced by the loss of Agoa benefits, but it could be a lot as profit margins on agricultural products sales in the US are slim and so the lack of import duties makes a big difference.
South Africa has virtually not allowed US chicken, pork, or beef imports into the local market for several years, partly through anti-dumping duties and partly through health restrictions.
On November 5, President Barack Obama announced that the US would suspend South Africa’s Agoa agricultural benefits on January 4 unless Pretoria lifted the ban on American meat imports before then.
Since then negotiations between officials intensified to try to meet the deadline.
In November South African and US veterinary authorities signed a health protocol agreement which dealt with the avian flu issue by allowing for imports of US chicken from parts of the US not affected by the disease.
But then an issue arose over salmonella infection in chicken and negotiations also continued over beef and pork health issues.
Earlier this month, Davies said he was confident the outstanding issues would be resolved before the January 4 deadline.
The Americans have complained in the past that they did not understand South Africa’s health concerns because they export chicken, beef, and pork to more than 100 other countries in the world without any problems.