The US and South Africa are close to a critical trade agreement covering meat importation, one which will enable South Africa to retain special access to US markets.
A major part of the agreement was finalised on Monday, but more must be done.
South Africa trades with the US under special legislation, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was passed by Congress on May 18, 2000, and later renewed to remain active through 2025.
As the US Commerce Department website explains: “The legislation significantly enhances market access to the US for qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries. In order to qualify and remain eligible for AGOA, each country must be working to improve its rule of law, human rights, and respect for core labor standards.”
Of sub-Saharan countries, 39 are members of AGOA, including South Africa, Swaziland, Ivory Coast, Uganda and the DRC. AGOA removes import levies on over 7000 products including textiles, agricultural products and manufactured goods.
But South Africa risked losing this special trade status, as a result of a dispute regarding the export of certain meats from the US.
The South African government had blocked the import of beef, pork and poultry products in December 2014, citing concerns about the lack of needed certifications for diseases. The avian flu outbreak in the US at that time made poultry a special concern, the South African Trade Ministry said at the time. South Africa asked for specific certifications from the US for these meats.
But, on Nov. 6, 2015, President Barack Obama gave South Africa 60 days to resolve all of the issues regarding health certifications for meats, or else the country would lose its special trading rights under AGOA.
Although that deadline has passed, the two countries are apparently close enough to an agreement for South Africa to avoid suspension.
On Monday, a major step forward was achieved, as South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies told reporters in Pretoria that the part of the agreement regarding poultry imports had been finalised.
“We have an avian influenza certificate issued on our side. The outstanding matter is salmonella and we are still also awaiting response on issues of beef,’’ Davies said.
But Davies said that significant progress had been made, and that the two countries were close to resolving the outstanding issues.
"It is our priority to conclude this process without any risk of uncertainty." Davies added.
Last year, South Africa shipped goods worth $1.7 billion to the US under AGOA.
If the suspension is effected, it will hurt South Africa’s agricultural industry which exports citrus, canned food, wine and avocados among other products to the US under the special trade legislation.