The South African poultry industry is “missing a massive opportunity” to export products as a result of it not meeting the health and safety standards required by trade blocs such as the European Union (EU), says the South African Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE).
A robust and successful poultry export market for South African chicken could bring material value to the entire value chain, from local producers and their shareholders, to medium-sized and small-scale farmers, exporters, processors and consumers, the organisation says.
The EU will only import chicken products that are free from antibiotics, hormones, brine and feed that contains animal by-products.
Brining, according to AMIE, is particularly problematic as it is prohibited in the EU and most of South Africa’s potential export partner markets. It also has a chequered history in South Africa, as local chicken may contain up to 15% brine – a limit legislated in 2016, after authorities found that domestic chicken pieces contained up to 60% water.
AMIE CEO Paul Matthew notes that, while various parties (local industry, importers and government) signed and agreed to a Poultry Master Plan in 2019, very little progress has been made in achieving the targets set out in the master plan to date.
“One of the key requirements of the [Master] Plan is for the South African poultry industry to grow the export of local products,” he says.
For South Africa to export poultry to the global market, several criteria need to be urgently addressed, including gaining access to countries with which South Africa has preferential trade agreements and meeting the international health and safety standards and requirements of countries to which South Africa will export.
In addition, AMIE suggests local producers reorientate their operations to extract value from certain poultry cuts in markets that will pay a premium for them.
To address these matters, AMIE intends establishing a dedicated export task group, which will, together with key stakeholders, facilitate access to export markets and provide processing capacity for cooked poultry product, which is especially desirable in the EU.
“We are eager to work with our partners in government and with local producers to fast-track [South Africa’s] export potential. Government plays a critical role in securing the necessary trade conditions for export, and local producers will need to urgently resolve the health and safety challenges required to meet the standards of potential export markets,” says Matthew.
XA International Trade Advisors founder and CEO Donald MacKay says South Africa continues to miss huge export opportunities because it is not ready to export. He reiterates that the EU is a priority market.
“The EU imports [between] 900 000 and one-million tonnes of chicken breast a year and it was buying that breast for about €6/kg in March. South African producers, who have a surplus of chicken breasts, are selling their breasts locally at a third of that price, so the upside for local producers is enormous,” he says.
Further, MacKay highlights that South Africa has duty-free status in the EU and that the EU has already said it will buy South African product once the country meets the required health and safety standards.
Nonetheless, the EU is not the only potential market for South African poultry, AMIE notes. South Africa has favourable, zero-duty trade conditions under the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.
Meanwhile, AMIE points out that successful export countries “balance their carcass” – a term used to differentiate cuts by selling different pieces to markets that will pay a premium for them.
Chicken breast meat fetches a premium in Europe, so these markets sell their breast meat there, also at a premium, states AMIE. The same goes for wings, which fetch a premium in the US, or chicken feet, which are similarly prized in China.
Conversely, South Africa cuts up a whole chicken and puts it into a bag, selling all the pieces at the same price.
“There is enormous upside economic value if local producers reorient their operations to extract value from product preferences and price premiums in the different markets,” says Matthew.
Part of developing a premium export product market, would involve the production of cooked chicken, which is in high demand in certain markets, including the EU. AMIE points out that a number of South African processors already have the required facilities set up to meet this demand.