South African chicken imports are picking up after declining steadily from a peak in 2018.
Official import statistics for May show a rise in chicken imports across a range of products. The increase is small compared to the previous month, but substantial compared to a year ago.
Poultry imports are up 37.8% over May 2021. Chicken is up 44.3% and import totals for key products have risen sharply over the year – bone-in portions (+61.3%), offal (+54%) and mechanically deboned meat (+53.5%).
The revival in imports comes despite South African import bans on poultry from all EU countries and some 22 US states due to bird flu. The main suppliers are Brazil, the US and Argentina. Whether this denotes a new surge in imports remains to be seen. Except for offal, volumes are above the previous year but are not yet approaching 2019, when the decline started.
Imports of offal (mainly chicken heads, feet and livers) until May are the highest they have been for the past four years, and have drawn the attention of the SA Revenue Service (SARS).
Offal attracts lower duties (30%) than bone-in portions such as leg quarters (62%), and SARS is investigating whether a number of offal consignments may have been wrongly labelled.
Offal comprised nearly 20% of Brazilian chicken imports in May 2022, after hitting 25% the previous month.
Poultry imports may continue to climb over the next few months while the poultry industry remains vulnerable to dumping, and waits for government’s decision on the imposition of permanent anti-dumping duties against Brazil and four EU countries, after temporary duties expired. Imports from Brazil, the country most affected by the temporary duties, increased by nearly 50% in May.
An argument meat importers often make is that imports supposedly keep chicken prices down and that anti-dumping duties make chicken more expensive. What we’re seeing play out in retail stores right now is proof of the exact opposite.
The price of chicken remains elevated despite massive increases in import volumes. It’s clear that the only ones who are benefiting from higher levels of predatory chicken imports are the importers themselves.