AFTER intense discord over SA’s participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), the trade relationship between SA and the US is on the mend, with talks now under way to provide greater access for SA’s agricultural products into the lucrative US market.
The discussions between the US and South African governments over expanding the range of SA’s agricultural exports that can enter the US market duty free under Agoa have already yielded results, as the US Department of Agriculture has issued a regulation to allow SA to export litchis to the US.
Other "low hanging fruit" under discussion are avocados, mangoes and beef, assistant US trade representative for agricultural affairs and commodity policy Sharon Bomer said last week. Ms Bomer has overall responsibility for trade negotiations and policy co-ordination regarding agriculture, and was deeply involved in the recent negotiations with SA on the export of US meat.
The talks were deadlocked on several occasions over SA’s restrictive sanitary and phyto-sanitary rules, which the US regarded as unnecessarily strict, and which placed obstacles in the way of exporting US poultry.
The looming threat of SA agricultural products losing their duty-free access to the US under Agoa if a deal was not concluded was decisive in breaking the logjam, but as a precautionary measure, the US administration set a deadline of March 15 for SA to demonstrate that it was implementing the agreements.
Ms Bomer and her delegation were in SA last week for discussions with government officials and business representatives to ensure that everything was in place to give effect to the agreement between the US and SA for the export of US poultry, beef and pork to SA.
She said everything was "on track" in this regard.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies has often stated his ambition to negotiate greater access for SA’s agricultural products into the US.
Agricultural products benefiting from duty-free access to the US under Agoa are citrus, wine and macadamia nuts. The export value of these products is more than R2bn annually.
Ms Bomer said on the sidelines of an engagement with the media the US would like to see more South African agricultural products entering the US.
There was, for instance, a huge demand for avocados. However, SA would have to first address US concerns over sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues related to the identified agricultural products.
"SA is very interested in expanding into the US market and has identified a number of top priorities and we are fully on board to work with SA to find a way forward to make sure that the food safety and animal and plant health issues are adequately addressed, and we are making progress," Ms Bomer said.
Department of Trade and Industry spokesman Sidwell Medupe said yesterday the first consignment of litchis had already been sent to the US.
"With regard to avocados and mangoes, there are discussions and technical exchanges on the pest risk analysis," he said.
"Discussions on avocados are more advanced than those on mangoes." He said the technical exchange was a normal trade process.
Meanwhile, the department said in a statement that the African National Congress (ANC) had directed its economic transformation subcommittee to review the trade deals SA had signed since 1999.
These include agreements with the European Union, European Free Trade Association and the Mercosur trade bloc in Latin America.
Agreements to be looked at include the Southern Africa Customs Union and the Southern African Development Community free trade protocol, and the talks for a Tripartite Free Trade Area in East and Southern Africa.
"The aim of the review is to inform the national executive committee (of the ANC) of all the trade agreements currently in place and assess the implications of these agreements to inform SA’s approach to future negotiations.
"The purpose is not to amend or end existing trade agreements," Mr Medupe said.
The department welcomed the initiative, as it would promote broad understanding of trade deals and the market access opportunities they provided.