Chicken Industry

Are importers afraid they might lose the chicken war?

Consideration of the local poultry industry’s application for anti-dumping duties against Brazil and four European Union countries is probably not even halfway finished, but the chicken imports lobby is busy trashing the application, the investigating body and the possible outcome of its deliberations.

The investigation is undertaken by South Africa’s trade regulator, the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) which announced the investigation in February this year. The process can take a year to 18 months.

In September, David Wolpert, a former CEO of the meat importers’ association AMIE which strongly opposes import tariffs, attacked ITAC, in effect accusing it of incompetence and bias.

“It has become a loose cannon, abusing rules, regulations and processes,” he said in a letter to Business Day, soon after the renewal of anti-dumping duties against chicken imports from Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. “Suddenly huge increases are the order of the day, even when the applications are obviously defective”.

Chicken importers, it would seem, fear that the renewal of anti-dumping duties against three countries will be followed by new duties against five more. And they are rehearsing their arguments in case of an adverse decision.

Wolpert, who has said several times that he believes the current application to be weak, has turned to one of the factors, competing products, on which the application is based. In a convoluted argument, he says that imported chicken portions do not compete with local chicken products.

There will be more of this criticism in the months before ITAC makes its recommendation. We know that, if chicken importers lose, they are going to blame the referee.

Chicken competes with chicken

FairPlay has responded, pointing out that “chicken competes with chicken”.

It was not the pursuit of localisation that caused Rainbow Chicken to reduce its production capacity and retrench 1 200 workers in 2017. Nor was it a pursuit of localisation when leading producers told shareholders that dumping had resulted in a loss of revenue, profits and jobs.

The poultry master plan, which importers have signed, notes that chicken imports increased by 400% over two decades, and had displaced potential growth in local production. It also warned that, if imports were not curtailed, “the South African industry can be expected to stagnate and slowly decline, affecting jobs and livelihoods across the value chain”.

Dumping is the problem. “It is at the heart of predatory trade, and must be stopped,” stated FairPlay founder Francois Baird.