Chicken Industry

OPINION: Dialogue to support the chicken industry and its workers

Paul Matthew cannot really expect that there will be no questioning of his continued opposition to tariffs that would curb the damage done by chicken imports (“Aspersions cast on chicken industry in SA” , Business Report, 18 December).


Writing on behalf of chicken importers and exporters, Matthew extends a hand of friendship and co-operation to FairPlay and other critics of his organisation. FairPlay welcomes this approach, and will certainly respond in kind, particularly where it concerns job creation in South Africa.

However we differ fundamentally on the issue of tariffs and job creation as well as the food safety risks for consumers, and accordingly Business Report readers are entitled to more facts than Matthew provided.

Importers have profited hugely over the years from ever-increasing volumes of chicken imports.

The prospect of higher tariffs on Brazilian imports has resulted in a huge publicity campaign to try to stop this happening because tariffs are indeed effective. The article by Matthew is part of this campaign.

Importers rely on three basic statements: tariffs are bad, imports do not harm the local chicken industry and exports will solve the industry’s problems. None of these assertions is accurate.

Let’s start with imports, which are the crux of the problem – huge volumes of dumped chicken have caused cutbacks and job losses, and have prevented industry expansion. Until importers acknowledge this, and co-operate in efforts to curb imports rather than containing them at current levels, dialogue is going to be difficult.

Existing tariffs are partially effective because Brazil and the European Union are selling unwanted surplus chicken portions, and can drop prices to counter low tariffs. This is unfair trade, and the reason that higher tariffs are needed. Thousands of jobs would be created.

Increasing chicken exports is an area where both sides can agree, and it is an important pillar in the industry master plan, which FairPlay has welcomed. However exports face major hurdles, including the lack of state veterinary staff to provide the necessary health certificates for raw meat exports. Cooked chicken exports are not going to rescue the industry and its workers if massive import volumes continue unabated.

If Matthew will support all of the aims of the master plan, including a significant reduction in chicken imports, there is room for a constructive dialogue in the interests many thousands of people who stand to get jobs in a revived and expanding chicken industry.

Francois Baird is the Founder, FairPlay. First published in the Business Report