The European Union does a magnificent job of protecting its own industries, markets and workers from competition it views as illegal or unfair.
Every year it boasts of its successes in a report on its trade defence activities, both in keeping out unwanted imports and springing to the defence of EU exporters against whom action is taken by other countries.
The latest 2021 annual report, claims that its trade defence activities had directly protected 462 000 EU jobs in EU manufacturing sectors such as aluminium, steel, ceramics and green technology.
An accompanying press release quotes the EU’s trade commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, as saying “Defending European producers and workers against the damage inflicted by those who do not play by trade rules is essential. Ensuring fair trade is more important than ever in today’s challenging global environment and when security of supply is under threat.
“We cannot allow dumped or subsidised imports to damage EU industry. This is why the effective enforcement and implementation of our trade defence measures remains a top priority for the European Commission.”
The irony of this will not be lost on South Africa’s poultry industry, which has spent decades trying to defend itself against “dumped or subsidised imports” from the EU. Since 2015, it has had anti-dumping duties in place against three EU countries – Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (both when it was part of the EU and after its departure).
Last December it secured provisional anti-dumping duties against four more – Denmark, Ireland, Poland and Spain – and hoped they would be turned into fixed duties by mid-year. Instead the government approved the five-year duties but suspended implementation for 12 months.
In all cases, the investigation by South Africa’s trade regulator, the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) found that the EU countries had been dumping frozen chicken portions in South Africa, and had harmed the local poultry industry.
For the EU, it seems to be a case of “do as I say, not as I do”. For South Africa, unfortunately, the year-long suspension of duties needed to defend the poultry industry and its jobs shows that trade defence has a much lower priority in Pretoria than it does in Brussels.
What’s giving some protection to the poultry industry at the moment is not government policy, but bird flu. Because of outbreaks across Europe this year, no EU country is currently licensed to import poultry into South Africa.
The main suppliers at the moment are Brazil (also freed for a year from anti-dumping duties), Argentina and the United States.
Image: European Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis. © European Union, 2022