Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.  Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies at a media briefing ahead of his budget speech on Wednesday. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

THE government is awaiting formal confirmation that the conclusion of negotiations on market access for some US meats into SA has removed all obstacles to the restoration of its tariff-free benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).

The agreement on market access for US poultry, beef and pork was reached between South African and US veterinarians in a late-night meeting on Wednesday.

That was after months of prolonged, tortuous and often nail-biting negotiations that went beyond the time frame laid down by US President Barack Obama. The documents were signed by both parties on Thursday morning.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said all that was needed was confirmation by the US government that all the obstacles to SA’s agricultural products enjoying Agoa benefits had been removed.

"We have cracked the deal," he said.

Mr Obama gave notice in November that unless agreements were reached to allow US beef, pork and chicken imports by December 31, some South African agricultural products would lose their tariff-free access to the US under Agoa.

While Mr Davies is convinced that the agreements achieved a balance between SA’s trade opportunities and the health and safety of its human and animal populations, South African Poultry Association CEO Kevin Lovell believes they would be disastrous for both. He believes SA has buckled under US pressure to grant too many concessions, throwing its health and safety standards "to the winds".

Unrestricted imports of pork shoulder cuts will be allowed, with the US agreeing to apply "mitigation measures". These include the removal of risk material before export to SA, particularly Trichinella and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). "South African vets negotiated a list of pork cuts to ensure safe trade from some potential diseases," Mr Davies said.

But Mr Lovell was adamant the mitigation measures would not protect South African pigs from contamination by PRRS, which had been eliminated from SA at huge cost.

SA dropped a requirementthat cattle from US neighbours Mexico and Canada be quarantined for 90 days before being slaughtered for export to SA.

The government has accepted US assurances that imported livestock used for beef exports would comply with US domestic requirements.

SA backed down on the strict application of the Salmonella testing procedures it applies to chicken imports from the rest of the world.

Pretoria had agreed to risk profile all consignments from the US for the first three months to establish a database and trend on the intensity of the sampling required. Thereafter, a revised statistically risk-based sampling plan would be implemented, Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana said at a media briefing.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the Department of Health would ensure meat entering the country was fit for human consumption.

Department of Trade and Industry director-general Lionel October explained that if Salmonella was found, it would be eliminated by pre-heating before the chicken was released into the market.

Mr Lovell pointed out, however, that the testing undertaken would not identify the strain of Salmonella present and whether it was dangerous. This was "unbelievably irresponsible". The testing would not be extensive enough, he said, and there were not enough pre-heating facilities.

A protocol on highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was signed to ensure that "appropriate scientific measures are taken by the US to ensure that the risk of transmission of HPAI to SA is managed," the Department of Trade and Industry said.

Only states not affected by avian flu will be allowed to export chickens to SA. US producers will be allowed to export 65,000 tonnes of bone-in chicken portions free of antidumping duty annually.

Mr Davies said SA would now push for increased access of SA’s agricultural products to the US, in particular avocados, mangoes, chicken breasts and Karoo lamb.