International trade

Poultry exports could be a master plan bonanza

With South Africa’s industry master plan registering success both at creating new jobs and preventing job losses, it’s a pity that chicken importers and exporters continue to snipe from the sidelines at the poultry master plan.

Two import and export associations signed the master plan in November 2019 and committed to support its objectives. Both have spent the past two years publicly attacking aspects of the plan rather than promoting its implementation.

A possible reason is that the master plan seeks to curb chicken imports, which could severely reduce a highly profitable income stream. As a former head of the principal importers’ association remarked, for importers to sign the master plan is “like turkeys voting for Christmas”.

However, the master plan is about more than imports. It’s about expansion and growth for an industry battered by nearly two decades of dumped and predatory chicken imports. It’s about 5 000 new jobs in increased production for bigger local and export markets.

It’s about benefits for all the signatories – government, local chicken producers, labour unions and, yes, for importers too. And it’s succeeding. As the SA Poultry Association noted last year, poultry and grain production has increased, jobs have been created and new farmers have entered the market.

One area where there has been absolutely no progress is chicken exports, which declined in the year after the master plan was signed, and possibly again in 2021 once statistics are finalised. Volumes remain small and most exports still go to neighbouring states. The Middle East has yet to open up to any great extent, and Europe remains closed.

So where does this leave chicken exporters? The master plan aims to turn South Africa into a significant poultry exporter with a five-fold increase in export volumes and more to come. You’d expect exporters to do everything they can to exploit this potential bonanza, looking for new revenues in new markets and working with government and producers to implement the multiple steps set out in the master plan.

Instead, in a letter to Business Day, Paul Matthew, CEO of the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE) blames the poultry industry and to some extent government for the fact that “nothing has happened” on the export front. Clearly exporters believe they are blameless.

There are complex issues to be resolved before we can build a substantial chicken export business. If South Africa is to be turned into a meaningful poultry exporter, then exporters themselves must play their part. What is AMIE doing to solve problems, open up export markets and help procure the products these markets want?