The United States government has asked the South African government to challenge an attempt by South African poultry and pork producers to once again block US imports of those products into South Africa.
Health restrictions which had blocked the import of US poultry, pork and beef for many years were only lifted earlier this year after protracted negotiations between the two governments.
The SA Poultry Association (SAPA) and SA Pork Producers Organisation (SAPPO) have gone to court seeking orders which would block the imports again.
SAPA and SAPPO said lifting the health restrictions has exposed South African consumers to salmonella bacteria in US chicken and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) in US pork.
Lifting the long restrictions on US meat imports was the main condition for South Africa to continue enjoying duty-free access to the US for key exports under AGOA- the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
Last week, James Sumner, president of the US Poultry and Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) said if SAPA and SAPPO won their court cases and US poultry and pork imports were again blocked, “it probably would – and should – trigger another out-of-cycle review under AGOA”.
Such a review would once again threaten South Africa’s AGOA market access benefits. Automobiles, wines and fruits have been the biggest exports.
Laird Treiber, economic counsellor at the US embassy in Pretoria, said during a phone press conference on Thursday that the US had asked the South African government to challenge the SAPA and SAPPO cases. He would not say if there would be another AGOA out of cycle review if the applications succeeded.
Treiber said the US was satisfied that trade in US poultry, pork and beef was again flowing since the health restrictions had been lifted.
However US poultry sales in SA were only about one third to one half of what the US had expected. A 65,000 ton annual quota had been negotiated.
Sumner had given various reasons for the low sales, mainly higher prices of US poultry which still carry 37 percent import duties, whereas European Union poultry enters SA duty free.
But US poultry exporters say some SA supermarket chains are not buying US poultry because SAPA has succeeded in putting a health stigma on it.
Treiber said there had been limited shipments into SA of US beef so far and only a test shipment of pork.
He also reported back on the AGOA Forum which was held in Washington last week where US and African governments discussed moving towards a more reciprocal trade relationship between the US and Africa when the current iteration of AGOA expires in 2025.
AGOA allows duty-free access to the US market for up to 6 500 different African products but does not require duty-free access for US exports into African markets.
The US wants a more balanced, reciprocal trade relationship, although Treiber stressed that Washington was not demanding fully reciprocal free trade agreements with the much smaller African economies
Other options could be considered, such as African countries binding tariff lines, or lifting tariffs in only some areas such as information and renewable energy technologies and facilitating smoother trade and improving their climates for both international and domestic business.
The US was also ready to consider giving the African countries greater access to the US market that they gave to their markets.
He added that even the US and South African governments would probably discover they were much closer to each other than South Africa now expected, once they sat down and started talking about a trade deal.
SA Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies told Nedlac last month that he did not think SA and the other members of the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) would be able to negotiate a free trade area with the US because the US template for free trade agreements was too demanding and inflexible.
It included things like labour and environmental standards and US access to government procurement which would clash with South Africa’s industrialisation policy, Davies had said.
But Treiber said that South Africa already had very robust laws in areas such as labour, environmental protection and protection of investment. The Economic Partnership Agreement which SA and the other SACU countries plus Mozambique had recently signed with the European Union contained much of what the US would want in a free trade agreement with them.
Treiber confirmed that it was the growing disadvantage which US exporters were suffering in African markets relative to their EU and other international competitors, that had prompted Washington to begin exploring a more reciprocal, post-AGOA trade relationship.
– African News Agency (ANA)