US poultry industry representatives argued obstacles still remain to South Africas AGOA status

US poultry industry representatives argued obstacles still remain to South Africa's AGOA status

The South African government today (17 November) announced a deal with Washington over avian flu, with Pretoria claiming the deal is a "significant milestone" towards securing preferential access for its exporters to the US market.

South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry said veterinary experts in both countries had agreed on a "poultry HPAI trade protocol".

The department said the two sides had been in talks over measures to ensure American poultry exports could continue to South Africa in the event of new cases of avian flu in the US. Should an outbreak occur, South Africa wanted to make sure shipments could proceed from parts of the US not affected by the disease.

"This agreement signals another significant milestone in the process of securing AGOA for South African exporters into the US market," the department said.

In June, ahead of the renewal of the African Growth Opportunity Act - a US law passed in 2000 to give preferential market access to African countries, including South Africa - Pretoria said it would ease duties on US poultry imports for the first time in 15 years.

In 2000, amid claims US processors were dumping cheap poultry products in South Africa, Pretoria put anti-dumping duties on the imports. US poultry companies claimed the move broke World Trade Organization rules and asked President George W. Bush and then President Obama to act - but to no avail.

With the AGOA set for renewal, the US pushed for South Africa to re-open its market to the country's poultry imports.

Under the deal, 65,000 tonnes of US bone-in chicken shipments would be allowed into South Africa without being subject to the duties. However, US processors would face a "most favoured nation" duty of 37%.

However, earlier this month, the US criticised South Africa for not making progress towards to the resumption of poultry imports and warned Pretoria the country could lose its AGOA status. The Obama administration said the US would revoke South Africa's AGOA status in 60 days if the country did not meet "certain benchmarks to eliminate barriers to US poultry, pork, and beef".

South Africa's Department for Trade and Industry said today the 65,000 ton quota would be open by 31 December.

Speaking to reporters in South Africa today, South Africa's Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said the two sides were close to resolving all outstanding issues before the Obama administration's deadline expires.

"We think we are going to conclude everything well before the expiry of a deadline which they said would result in the termination of agriculture exports," Davies was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The National Chicken Council, a US body representing the country's poultry industry, welcomed the veterinary deal but said further agreements were needed on other matters.

"We applaud the progress that has been made and support the regionalised approach to avian influenza," Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council and Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, said in a joint statement.

However, they added: "Two obstacles still remain, though, one pertaining to food safety and the other is an acceptable quota allocation procedure by the South African government. While this development is certainly positive, there is still work to be done and it is our opinion that this issue becomes resolved when US chicken products are being enjoyed by South African consumers."

Asked if the issues meant South Africa had yet to meet the Obama administration's demands and whether South Africa's AGOA status was still threatened, a spokesperson for the National Chicken Council said: "In our opinion, yes."

Representatives at the US Trade Representative had not returned a request for comment at the time of publication.