NEW import duties on uncooked pasta and set-top boxes for digital terrestrial television broadcasting have been questioned by trade commentators.

In tariffs published on December 21 by the South African Revenue Services (SARS), import duties on several articles including certain textile fabrics and uncooked pasta were introduced, with tariffs ranging between 15% and 40%.

Trade consultants said the introduction of tariffs was clearly aimed at protecting local industries from competition. The increase in the tariff of uncooked pasta, pasta that was not stuffed or otherwise prepared to 40% seemed to be the most perplexing as the importers had not been given the opportunity to respond.

Trade law attorney Rian Geldenhuys said the sole reason given for increasing the duty was to protect the local industry from subsidised imports. The application was brought by Sasko Pasta, a division of Pioneer Foods. Mr Geldenhuys said it was quite remarkable that the application had succeeded and predicted future litigation by importers of pasta.

The remedy against perceived unfair trade practices, such as subsidies, required a far more detailed application than merely an application for the introduction of a trade tariff.

Trade consultant David MacKay also expressed concern about the increase of tariff duties on food items such as pasta, saying it was bound to push up prices in South Africa.

SARS announced a general tariff of 40% on uncooked pasta to become effective on January 1 2013.

Mr Geldenhuys said the introduction of a 25% general duty on imported textile fabrics inter-layered with bentonite clay, which became effective on December 21, was not surprising as it was brought to protect a new industry against cheap and inferior products.

A duty of 15%, effective from December, has been introduced on conical steel drums with a capacity of 235 litres or more and a tariff of 15% on imported set-top boxes with a value for duty purposes of not exceeding R5,000.

Mr MacKay said the introduction of a duty on the boxes did not make any sense since local producers had a "captive market" due to a government incentive. "The increase, at a time when South Africa urgently needs to have the boxes distributed for the migration from analogue broadcasting signal to digital, is most worrying," Mr MacKay said.

An estimated 11-million households will have to buy a set-top box when the digital migration takes effect, to enable their television sets to receive the new digital signal. The conversion process has seen several delays, with the latest deadline set for June 2015.