TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

'Salmonella stands between South Africa and a renewed AGOA deal'

Sunday, 22 November 2015 Published: | Xolani Mbanjwa

Source: City Press via Fin24 (South Africa)

After US President Barack Obama threatened South Africa’s suspension of trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), the main concern from the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) has remained that US meat exports may contain the bacterial disease salmonella.

The department nevertheless signed an agreement with the US last week to resume imports of 65 000 tonnes of its chickens annually, but dti Minister Rob Davies said the department had formulated a proposal on the issue of salmonella and was awaiting a response from the US.

Obama gave South Africa 60 days to iron out the issues raised, including the veterinary trade protocol, which Davies said was signed by the country’s two vets, ending a drawn-out dispute over South Africa’s concerns that the outbreak of avian flu, which had killed an estimated 50 million birds in the US, posed an animal and human health risk for South Africa’s meat market.

Davies reiterated that the two countries were “tantalisingly” close to a deal and was confident an agreement on salmonella would be reached by the December 31 deadline.

This had been set by Obama, who believed South Africa undermined the agricultural markets from both countries by continuously changing its trade requirements.

Davies said the only two things outstanding in the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement, which looked at measures and other regulations aimed at protecting human and animal lives from the risks and threats arising from additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-carrying organisms in food, were salmonella and issues around the shoulder cuts of pork.

“There’s a signed letter that’s outstanding on the question of salmonella. We’ve submitted a proposal and we’re waiting for a response. There’s also the shoulder cuts of pork and I think those are the main two things outstanding in the SPS,” said Davies.

DA spokesperson on trade and industry Geordin Hill-Lewis had warned that South Africa could not afford a suspension from Agoa, as the country’s annual agricultural exports were estimated at more than R2.4 billion a year for products such as wine, fruit juice, citrus fruit and pulp.

The effects of the suspension would have been dire for the local agricultural market, which is already under the strain of a devastating drought.

The two countries have been at loggerheads for most of the year, with South Africa demanding that certain regions in the US be barred from exporting to South Africa due to fears about avian flu.

Despite South Africa making headway in agreeing with the US on several issues, including a decision to open market access to US bone-in chicken cuts during a meeting in June in France, there were thorny issues that prevented a deal from being signed.

In an attempt to force an agreement, the US Senate wrote to President Jacob Zuma in September asking for a rebate facility to be created to legally exempt the 65 000 metric tons of poultry imports from South Africa’s anti-dumping duties.

In August, South Africa extended an olive branch, inviting US counterparts to participate in the country’s “transparent and open” policymaking process and debates to “convey their views” on other thorny issues raised by the US Chamber of Commerce, including the amended broad-based black economic empowerment codes and the controversial Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill.

Davies implied that there was no need for the US to threaten to withdraw South Africa’s Agoa duty-free market access benefits, as “we were close all the time”. 

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