Poultry imports are rising

Poultry imports into South Africa are on the rise, and we may be seeing the end of the long downward trend in import volumes since they peaked in 2018.

Totals are still well below previous years, but an acceleration that began in November last year has gathered pace in the first quarter of 2023.

Warning signs are flickering, particularly for dumped imports of the bone-in chicken portions, mainly leg quarters, that compete with locally produced packs of individually quick frozen (IQF) pieces.

Bone-in imports for the first three months of the year totalled 25 927 tonnes, according to industry reports based on official statistics. This is nearly half of the bone-in Q1 imports in 2020, and only a third of the Q1 total in 2018.

On the other hand, bone-in imports surged by 31% in January, 81.4% in February and 37.7% in March. This was led by higher volumes from Brazil, which may be seeking to expedite shipments before anti-dumping duties take effect in August, and by the United States because of the annual increase at the end of the 12-month cycle of its quota free of anti-dumping duties.

Taken together with increases at the end of 2022, it seems that the needle has swung. After five years of decreases from the devastating levels of 2018, chicken imports may rise again in 2023.

There are some caveats. Bone-in volumes will probably drop in April, as they do every year, after the March end of the US quota surge. More importantly, avian influenza (bird flu) may be the major factor affecting South Africa’s poultry imports this year.

Most of the United States is affected by bird flu, and as the virus is now occurring year round it may continue to spread even in the northern hemisphere’s warmer months.

Brazil, the world’s largest poultry exporter, has reported its first cases of bird flu in wild birds, and is on high alert. If the virus spreads to commercial flocks and imports from Brazil are banned, the picture could change dramatically.

Nevertheless, the rising totals deserve the attention of Ebrahim Patel, South Africa’s minister of Trade, Industry and Competition. Last August, he suspended the imposition of anti-dumping duties on chicken imports from Brazil and four European Union countries. Chicken importers have been urging him to extend that suspension rather than impose the duties in August.

Patel has accepted findings from South Africa’s trade regulator, the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) that imports from these five countries were harming the local poultry industry. Now action is required.

Import volumes are rising again, and the dumping damage continues.