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Progress in SA-US meat dispute

Progress in SA-US meat dispute
Published date:
Wednesday, 11 March 2015
Peter Fabricius

South African and US government and business negotiators made progress last week in trying to solve a dispute about the entry of US meat products into the local market.

This dispute was threatening South Africa’s continued participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa). But there was still a lot of work to be done, US officials said.

Agoa gives duty-free access to the lucrative US market for almost all South African exports and expires in September this year.

The US Congress will decide soon whether and how to renew it and if South Africa should remain part of it.

Some key congressmen have threatened to exclude South Africa if it continued to block the imports of US poultry, pork and beef on health and other grounds.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said last night the South African Poultry Association had made a revised offer to the two US poultry associations it met in Washington. This included a development component of empowerment and training for South African poultry producers.

The two sides were working towards another round of negotiations. Davies said the government was pushing for a resolution which took into account both the realities of South Africa as well as its broader interests in Agoa.

“We continue to be optimistic,” he added.

US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard yesterday said: “The meetings on Agoa last week in Washington were positive and showed progress. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

“The window for action is now. The US Congress makes its own timelines and will move forward with Agoa legislation when it is ready – which could be very soon.

“We want South Africa to be part of Agoa, but Congress has made clear doing so will depend on South Africa resolving the remaining issues.”

The main meeting in Washington on Friday was led by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry and the US trade representative.

A US official who participated in the meetings in Washington last week yesterday said US exports of chicken to South Africa had been blocked entirely for 15 years, beef exports had been blocked for 12 years and pork exports for two years.

He said that the US exports pork to 100 countries, poultry to 170 countries and beef to 75 countries.

At the same time, South Africa imports almost $500 million worth of these same products from other countries a year while shutting out the US completely. This made it easy for US meat exporters to demonstrate to the US Congress that South Africa is discriminating against the US.

Meanwhile the US was trying to hold up its end of the deal by agreeing to negotiate imports of citrus and avocados.

The US official said health restrictions were blocking the imports of pork and beef and these were a government-to-government concern.

“Congress has noted the problem that South Africa has not approved health certificate issues of beef and pork from the US. This might be a stumbling block for South Africa in its participation on Agoa.”

The restrictions on imports of US poultry were based on different, anti-dumping measures and the South African government had asked the industry associations to negotiate a resolution among themselves.

But if they could not do so – and they still seemed far apart – the South African government would have to take the issue back, he said.

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