SOUTH AFRICA – South African and US veterinary authorities have signed a health protocol agreement allowing for the import of US bone-in-chicken portions, overcoming one of the major obstacles to the continued access of SA’s agricultural products into the US market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The protocol signed on Friday deals with sensitive issues such as how to allow US chicken exports to SA in the event of avian flu outbreaks in some US states without this harming South African flocks. This has been a major obstacle in reaching an accord.
Outstanding issues are a letter dealing with salmonella in poultry and finalisation of an agreement on the sanitary and phytosanitary issues related to US beef and pork imports.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said on Monday that a meeting would take place in the next few days to deal with these.
"These issues are not big," Mr Davies said. "We are close to concluding the outstanding matters and there is progress. We think we are well on track to conclude all the regulatory matters well within the deadline (January 4) set in the notice sent by US President Barack Obama," Mr Davies said.
A failure to resolve outstanding issues by this date will mean SA’s agricultural products will lose their duty-free access to the US under Agoa.
Also required is a decision by SA’s International Trade Administration Commission (Itac) on the application to allow 65,000 tonnes of bone-in-chicken portions to enter the local market annually free of antidumping duties.
Itac’s deadline for public comments on the application was Friday. Itac chief commissioner Siyabulela Tsengiwe said the process would be fast-tracked but no decision had been taken yet as to whether the commission would hold a special meeting to deal with it or wait until its monthly meeting on December 8.
He was confident, however, that its report with recommendations could be submitted to Mr Davies by mid-December.
Mr Davies highlighted the technical complexity of the discussions between the veterinarians on the sanitary and phytosanitary issues, which were further complicated by the fact that SA and the US used different systems.
"They did take longer than I anticipated but then again what trade negotiations anywhere in the world are finalised within the deadline? Mostly they take a bit longer because an issue crops up."
The South African Poultry Association (Sapa) is not satisfied, however, that the verbal in-principle agreement reached with its US counterpart, the US Poultry and Egg Council, in Paris in June will be covered by the Itac process as Mr Davies believes is the case.
Sapa CEO Kevin Lovell said the parties had agreed to reduce the in-principle agreement in writing but the US industry body had begun to backtrack and had not yet signed the draft agreement.
Mr Lovell stressed that the deal contained key elements important to the local industry, which went beyond the size of the quota and sanitary and phytosanitary issues being dealt with by the two governments. Nonsignature could be a hurdle in future, he warned.
Sapa had agreed to the quota on the basis that there would be a written agreement that protected the local industry and allowed it to export to the US.
The Paris agreement also included a growth factor for the quota which would rise or fall in line with local annual chicken production and consumption using 2015 figures as the baseline.
It was also conditional on there being no change to SA’s benefits under Agoa. The US industry also offered to support small farmers.