US, South Africa Find Common Ground in Bid to Resolve Poultry Row

17 September 2015

The US and South Africa have reportedly made progress on the technical health and sanitary discussions related to the imports of poultry, pork, and beef meat from the United States, following a strategic dialogue held this week.

This development comes after growing frustrations from Washington over the alleged lack of implementation of the Paris agreement reached in June, which was meant to pave the way for the re-entry of US chicken imports to the South African market.

Since 2000, imports of certain US chicken products into South Africa had been subject to anti-dumping duties of above 100 percent, which US poultry meat exporters deemed unfair. Under the Paris agreement, South Africa committed to end these duties on US chicken and resume imports, initially at levels of 65,000 tonnes a year. (See Bridges Africa, 10 June 2015)

A separate set of actions was then envisaged in order to resolve the remaining sanitary issues related to poultry, pork, and beef after South Africa raised concerns over an avian influenza outbreak – an infectious viral disease of birds which can sometimes spread to poultry – in several US states. This led the former to delay the effective implementation of the agreement.

A policy of “regionalisation”

The South African government welcomed the agreement by US and South African veterinary experts on the meat import issues as a breakthrough, according to the Citizen, an online news platform. On poultry, experts settled on a protocol and health certification allowing for the import of poultry from areas in the US that are not affected by the virus.

A statement issued on Tuesday by South Africa’s Ministry of Trade and Industry confirmed that the two sides aim to finalise the terms and conditions for poultry export certificates by 15 October in order to resume shipments from the US by year’s end.

In a letter addressed to South African President Jacob Zuma last week, US senators Johnny Isakson and Chris Coon requested that Pretoria follow the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines and implement a “policy of regionalisation for pathogenic avian influenza,” along with adopting language for export certificates. They specified that without these issues being addressed and in place, US companies would not be in a position to ship any product, regardless of the terms of the Paris agreement.

According to commentators, the common understanding found this week appears to address this issue of “regionalisation,” as South Africa agreed to only ban poultry imports from specific areas of the US affected by the virus.

Isakson is a Republican from Georgia while Coons is a Democrat from Delaware, both major poultry-producing US states. The two senators are also the co-chairmen of the US Senate Chicken Caucus and are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and have been pressuring the Obama Administration over the past year to block the renewal of South Africa’s participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) unless market access for American poultry exports was increased.

The lifting of similar health-related restrictions on US beef and pork was also discussed during this week’s meeting. Both parties reportedly discussed possible South African exports of animal products to the US and exchanged information on the technical requirements to access American markets, reports the Citizen.

One source consulted on this issue indicated that a common ground might have been reached on pork and beef restrictions, but cautioned however that there were still additional issues to be dealt with before a full-fledged solution can be confirmed.

South Africa under pressure

“We look forward to successful implementation of the Paris agreement so the United States and South Africa can at last leave this trade dispute behind,” read the letter co-signed by the US senators to South African President Zuma.

The letter describes two processes that need to be completed by South Africa in order to make the Paris agreement effective. These include the creation of a rebate facility to legally exempt the annual quota amount from anti-dumping duties and the development of rules for allocation and administration of the quota through a transparent legal process.

“We are also disappointed to learn that there has been no progress in addressing South Africa's complete ban on US poultry due to avian influenza,” reads the letter.

The letter also makes specific reference to the review of South Africa’s eligibility under the new version of AGOA. In the context of such review, if the US President determines that South Africa does not meet certain requirements, the latter’s eligibility could either be withdrawn, suspended, or limited. (See Bridges Africa, 15 May 2015)

This summer, the US Congress passed legislation to extend duty-free access to the American market for eligible sub-Saharan African countries for another decade through AGOA.

“Congress has made clear that the United States should not allow other countries to enjoy trade benefits under AGOA while actively undermining our trading interests,” said Coons.

At stake are South Africa exports to the US of motor vehicles and citrus valued at US$1.3 billion and US$41 million, respectively.

ICTSD reporting; “US and SA agree on poultry imports,” THE CITIZEN, 16 September 2015; “Poultry Dispute Threatens South African Trade With U.S.,” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 13 September 2015; “Coons demands South Africa finalize poultry treaty,” DELAWAREONLINE, 14 September 2015; “US meat row puts South Africa car exports at stake,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 10 September 2015.

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