Chicken Import Duty Court Battle on the Horizon

SOUTH AFRICA - The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (Amie) will file an application at the South Gauteng High Court related to import duty costs for chicken, it said last week (6 June).
calendar icon 10 June 2013
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The action was about obtaining confidential information which might shed light on what future chicken import duty costs should be, Amie executive committee member Georg Southey said in Johannesburg.

According to BusinessDay, in March, the South African Poultry Association applied for an increase in import duties, which Amie said could be up to 82 per cent from 24 per cent, and which it opposed.

The International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (Itac) initiated investigations, but did not verify some information, and reduced the period for comment from four weeks to three, Amie said.

Itac said it had to move fast, because the industry was in distress.

Amie disputed this, and said it was mostly doing well. It blamed problems on the local industry’s business model, which had focused on creating a market for cheap bags of frozen chicken pieces made heavier with brine.

Imports, at up to 12 per cent of local consumption a year, were not the problem, it said.

"We are not a threat to local industry, and we are hardly an import-dominant industry," Amie CEO David Wolpert said.

If importers were to pay higher duties, this would make prices higher for consumers, whose only source of protein, in many cases, was chicken.

The application would be filed against the association and Itac chief commissioner on 18 June, for access to apparently confidential information the association had supplied to Itac.

"We believe (the information) is flawed, and we want a chance to interrogate it properly," Mr Southey said.

The court would determine whether the information was confidential. Also, on 11 June, Amie would make a presentation at Itac’s headquarters in Pretoria.

The commission had monthly reviews on tariff-related matters, and Amie would discuss jobs, socio-economic factors, and brining.

Brining involves injecting salty water into parts of a chicken, mostly the breasts.

Amie said hollow steel rods were used to inject the brine into the chicken to make it more succulent, but it claimed this process reduced the nutritional value of the protein and made customers pay for frozen water.

He said that for every 2kg bag of chicken sold, 600g was water, so customers were getting 1.4kg of chicken.

"We believe the local industry is selling expensive water, not cheap chicken," Mr Southey said.

No more than 8 per cent of a whole chicken’s total weight is allowed to be water, according to the agriculture department’s poultry meat regulations.

The present injection levels declared on some chicken bags were between 26 per cent and 30 per cent, which was excessive, Amie said.

Amie was also concerned about the 15,000 jobs in the chicken import industry which were held by people who cut, repackaged and distributed the imported chicken. Jobs could be lost if import duties rose, it said.

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