US - South Africa's trade benefits with the US will soon be suspended due to a continued failure to sort issues relating to agricultural imports.
The Obama administration announced that duty-free treatment will be halted on all eligible goods in the agricultural sector from South Africa in sixty days time, unless South Africa eliminates barriers to imports of US poultry, pork and beef.
The benefits come under the US' African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade preference agreement that was renewed after talks in Paris earlier this year, when the two countries agreed quotas of agricultural goods to be received by South Africa.
President Obama said: "I will continue to assess whether South Africa is making continual progress toward the elimination of barriers," but so far South Africa has failed to meet "critical benchmarks".
A US Trade Representative statement at a trade review of the Southern African Customs Union outlined the continued concerns of the US about the agreement.
It said that South Africa's animal health requirements are "non-science based", particularly in relation to avian influenza and salmonella in poultry, and other animal diseases such as PRRS in pigs.
One critical deadline was missed on 15 October, when South Africa was supposed to finalise both a trade protocol for avian influenza and a health certificate for US poultry, but those issues remain unresolved.
South Africa claims it is "making progress"
In a statement responding to President Obama's announcement, South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said that contrary to US remarks, the country has been making "continual progress" to implement the Paris agreement.
"At the Paris meeting South Africa agreed to open the South African market to the US for 65 000 tons of bone-in chicken pieces through a rebate facility. In this regard the International Trade and Administration Commission has already issued a draft regulation on the 30th of October, 2015.
"The process of creating this quota is envisaged to be concluded well before the 31st of December 2015," said the statement.
The DTI also said that vets from the two countries had been "fully engaged on the detailed drafting of a trade protocol and animal health protocol for poultry".
It said the vets are meeting again today (6 November) to attempt to close the technical issues, saying South Africa believes that it is “on track” to meet the December 31st deadline to resume imports of US poultry.
The announcement came only two days after South Africa's Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Rob Davies, assured the country's parliament that South Africa had addressed the technical issues relating to market access of US agricultural products.
"We remain fully committed to address any final technical matters that the United States may require in making sure that the country continues to benefit from AGOA,” emphasised Mr Davies on Tuesday.
Issues can still be addressed
"Two substantive issues still need to be resolved based on sound science: food safety contamination and animal health certification,” said National Chicken Council President Mike Brown.
“Therefore, we strongly support the administration’s actions to hold South Africa accountable for failure to resume import of US chicken.”
Mr Brown concluded: “This issue is not resolved until US chicken products have unimpeded access to the South African consumer as we agreed to in Paris in June. I would prefer that the out-of-cycle review of AGOA benefits for South Africa be completed favourably. But, without resolution to the US chicken issue, I do not believe that is possible.”
A group of senators that had been campaigning for access for US agricultural exports welcomed the move to cut South Africa's trade benefits.
“It is unfortunate that this action must be taken, but South Africa has repeatedly failed to implement the deal reached this summer and missed a key deadline last month to finalise the trade protocol and health certificate for US poultry," said senators Tom Carper, Johnny Isakson, Chris Coons and David Perdue.
"South Africa does not deserve to receive benefits under AGOA as long as they refuse to drop unfair trade policies that have effectively slammed the door on American chicken imports for over a decade.
"There is still time to address these issues, and we hope the President's action today spurs South Africa to open their market to American poultry immediately.”
Read our previous news item on this story: SA Agrees to Resume US Poultry Imports by End of 2015.