WHILE farm workers in the Western Cape winelands intensify their strike, South Africa’s wine industry on Monday reported that exports for last year had reached 417-million litres — a new record for the sector.

There are fears that the farm worker strike could cause irreparable damage to the agricultural sector and lead to the long -term loss of export markets.

Earlier this month, the Congress of South African Trade Unions said it would call on the international community to boycott South Africa’s agricultural products because they were produced in "slave labour conditions".

Farm workers want their daily wages to be doubled to R150, among other demands. They are also calling on farmers to improve working conditions.

Wines of SA CEO Su Birch said on Monday that exports for last year had reached 417-million litres — 10-million litres more than the previous record of 407-million litres achieved in 2008 and a 17% increase on volumes in 2011.

"The record levels are the result of a more favourable currency, as well as the global shortage of wines stemming from a significant drop in the recent harvests of competitor wine-producing nations in Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand," Ms Birch said.

"At this stage, all indications are that this year’s local crop could be the third-biggest in recorded history.

"This is assuming that good weather conditions continue, that there is a speedy and peaceful resolution to the strikes, and harvests come in on time."

While the industry regretted the labour unrest in the Western Cape, huge strides were being made to ensure decent working conditions on all wine-producing farms, she said.

"The Fairtrade office has confirmed that South Africa now has the highest number of Fairtrade-accredited wineries worldwide, with 65% of Fairtrade wines sold globally coming from South Africa."

South African Table Grape Industry chairman Johan van Niekerk warned at the weekend that the strike would result not only in massive losses to farmers but also in the loss of employment and loss of export markets.

"As part of the fruit industry and the direct recipients of the current unrest, we commit ourselves to partner with government and labour to develop a fruit industry development plan, to address the challenges of the socioeconomic environment in the Western Cape," Mr van Niekerk said.