TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

US demand proof South Africa ready to lift meat bans

Tuesday, 11 August 2015 Published: | Simon Barber

Source: Business Day (South Africa)

Sceptical US officials have demanded further evidence that Pretoria is ready to lift disease-related bans on US poultry, beef and pork.

This was raised at Friday’s public hearing in the US on whether SA should continue to receive African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) trade privileges.

To remain part of Agoa, SA would have to do more than "address US concerns", assistant Trade Representative Florie Liser told ambassador Mninwa Mahlangu after the South African delivered testimony prepared by the Department of Trade and Industry to an inter-agency panel that included officials from the US departments of Treasury, State, Agriculture and Labour.

"Significant and continual progress has to be made on the elimination of barriers to US trade and investment," Ms Liser said, pressing the ambassador to go beyond his text and provide "concrete" examples.

Citing outbreaks of avian flu in 20 US states, SA prohibits imports of all US chicken, including the 65,000 tonnes of frozen bone-in portions it recently agreed to let in annually at normal tariff rates.

The US is demanding that the ban be "regionalised" — limited to poultry from areas in which outbreaks have occurred.

Assistant Trade Representative for Agriculture Sharon Lauritsen complained of a "discrepancy" between the ambassador’s brief and what SA veterinary officials had told US officials at their last formal meeting on July 27.

The ambassador suggested that SA would be willing to consider "regionalisation" if there were no further cases of avian flu over the next six weeks.

But by the veterinary officials, Ms Lauritsen said, "we were told that SA was not really willing to regionalise … and that we should expect a disease-free approach", meaning that an outbreak anywhere in the US would continue to result in a blanket SA ban.

Paul Spencer, of the US department of agriculture, noted that "so far in 2015, SA has accepted poultry from 10 European Union (EU) countries despite an ongoing outbreak of (avian flu) within the EU", where trade was "borderless".

"Why is SA not treating the US the same as the EU from a disease control standpoint?" he asked.

To which the ambassador replied: "I would not get further into that except to say that … discussion has been taking place between the two governments."

In questions to the representatives of the US chicken and pork trade associations, who testified at the hearing, panel members repeatedly sought to establish whether SA was giving US exporters a harder time than those of other countries.

Courtney Knupp, of the National Pork Producers Council, said "no other country has the same restrictions". Her industry was concerned that others might "see the SA approach as a model for how to restrict imports without raising tariffs".

The ambassador said the Cabinet had agreed to lift the ban on US beef imposed to prevent the spread of mad cow disease and that Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana had written to his US counterpart to inform him of the decision.

In a telling display of scepticism, Ms Liser wanted further proof and asked the ambassador to supply a copy of what she called the Cabinet "decree".

The only non-agricultural issue to be discussed at the hearing was the Security Industry Association’s complaint about section 20 of the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment bill, which members fear will force them to divest from SA at fire-sale prices.

Mr Mahlangu said President Jacob Zuma had sent the bill back to Parliament unsigned, raising hopes that section 20’s local ownership requirement would be amended.

 

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