Poultry imports not helping South Africans
Not long ago, European powers used superior force of arms to control a country and subdue its people to gain markets and export surplus production. Developing countries today are still targeted by economically powerful nations using massive economies of scale, subsidies, sector support and financial muscle to capture lucrative markets for themselves.
This new colonialism inhibits growth of local production. Where this exists, it is destroyed by flooding markets with goods dumped at prices far below local production costs. Once a local industry is decimated, import prices begin to rise. Textiles, clothing, shoes and tyres are four examples of once-flourishing local industries that have all but ceased to exist. Our poultry industry is the next target – and imports are the weapon.
The renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) is a perfect example of subliminal racism and colonial domination. US poultry producers were stopped from dumping their chicken waste in South Africa for 17 years with antidumping duties that were never challenged in court or at the World Trade Organisation. Instead, by threatening Agoa’s renewal, South Africa was effectively blackmailed into accepting their products, as well as reducing our food safety standards to accommodate their unwillingness to produce products compliant with South African standards.
No country of any size has ever imported itself to sustained economic growth. The story sold by importers is a con; nothing is as they claim it is. There is no need to import, no good reason and no benefit to anyone beyond a handful of distributors, who if they weren’t getting fat off chicken imports would still be in business – just not living in Camps Bay. There is no compelling reason for poultry imports other than greed.
Imports offer no benefit for local processing or production, where most of the industry’s 130 000 jobs are created. Importers are job stealers, while local producers are job creators. Currently, one big company is closing an abattoir in the North West Province. A medium-size producer that operated for forty years is shutting up shop, while others struggling to pay suppliers are likely to fold soon. Even big producers are so stressed they are running out of external storage space to store production.
Imports offer no cost benefit to local consumers. Although landed at ridiculously low dumped prices, importers admit imported chicken is actually sold for more than local chicken. There is no cheap chicken for consumers, only fat margins for people selling imported products to poor people.
Our world-class business model makes us more competitive in poultry meat production than the EU. If our grain farmers were supported as in other countries, we would be as cost efficient as the US and Brazil. We are already at least as good, if not better, as they are in turning animal feed into food for people.
Our ability to realise the full value of the broiler is maximised because we sell every piece of the chicken to our consumers, rather than just the white – or breast – meat preferred in the US and Europe, whose subliminal racism is exemplified by exporting the waste they don’t consume, transferring the effects of their dietary preference to the poor.
We can produce more than enough chicken for all South Africans – we simply cannot afford to because of distorted trade policies, which if amended will allow local poultry producers to produce more than enough to feed our nation and guarantee food security. The bottom line is if you want South Africans to eat well, generate more income and create more jobs, let us farm more chickens, produce more and feed more people.
In South Africa’s history, import volumes have never been this high. In a flat economy with declining disposable incomes, why can’t the government appreciate the seriousness of the problem? Why are foreign waste products allowed to destroy our industry, thereby tacitly facilitating a huge collapse in the biggest part of South African agriculture?
Imports are bad for our economic health, food safety and security. If the poultry industry is to survive, let alone fulfil its potential for enterprise development and job creation, imports must be stopped now.
* Kevin Lovell is the chief executive of the South African Poultry Association.
* The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.