Cape Town - US Senators Johnny Isakson and Chris Coons, co-chairs of the Senate Chicken Caucus, have applauded an announcement by the Obama administration and the US poultry industry on Thursday that South Africa has finally agreed to eliminate long-standing barriers to US poultry imports.
The move, which was largely praised by industry roleplayers in SA, allows for US poultry to be imported into South Africa for the first time in 15 years and follows an announcement by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies earlier on Thursday that SA has cracked a deal to stay in the US African Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa).
READ: Agoa reaction: 'Common sense prevailed'
Davies told journalists in Pretoria that negotiations between SA and the US over health issues related to meat imports were concluded late on Wednesday and the SA market was now open for 65 000 tonnes of US poultry imports.
The US senators said in a statement that the US poultry industry contributes $15.1bn (R241bn) to Georgia's economy.
Georgia and Delaware, the senators’ home states, are the largest poultry producers in the US.
"Ultimate success will only be achieved when US poultry finally enters the South African market, which could occur within a month," they said.
“South Africa’s decision to finally fulfil the obligations of the settlement reached last summer means that after more than 15 years of illegal anti-dumping duties and unfair trade policies, American poultry will finally be able to enter the South African market,” said Isakson and Coons.
They said South Africa is a critical market for the US poultry industry, and that the agreement will lead to tens of millions of dollars more in annual export sales.
The senators also said the US poultry industry is committed to investing in the South African poultry sector, and that this deal will help build a strong partnership between the countries' industries.
After pressuring the South African government for more than a year to end anti-dumping duties and food safety and health trade policies on US poultry, a deal was reached in Paris on June 8 last year to drop anti-dumping duties and establish a quota.
But South Africa has been slow to fulfil the obligations agreed to in Paris, including the commitment to resolve sanitary barriers to poultry hindering the successful implementation of the agreement.
In September 2015, Senators Coons and Isakson called on President Jacob Zuma to act quickly to address the unresolved issues in the agreement. In November, President Barack Obama issued a 60-day notice of his intent to suspend Agoa benefits for South Africa’s agricultural products if the country continued to fail to eliminate trade barriers to US poultry, beef and pork. That notice expired on January 4, 2016.
The senators reckon the agreement is also good for South Africa, "as our poultry is healthy, affordable, and of the highest quality".
US Ambassador Michael Froman said South Africa faces one more hurdle over US meat imports before it can make a toast to remaining a part of Agoa.
READ: SA faces one more Agoa hurdle
“While we celebrate the progress we have made in resolving the outstanding technical issues, the true test of our success will be based on the ability of South African consumers to buy American product in local stores,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
“We will be working to ensure that this final benchmark of entry of poultry is achieved so that South Africa continues to have the advantage of full Agoa benefits, including by working with the US and South African industries to expedite the shipment of eligible product as soon as possible.