The assault on SA’s trade regulator continues

Chicken importers don’t like having their profits reduced by anti-dumping duties, so they and their friends are picking on South Africa’s trade regulator, the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC).

ITAC is investigating an application by the South African poultry industry for anti-dumping duties on specified chicken imports from Brazil, Denmark, Ireland, Poland and Spain. Its findings are expected by mid-year, and in December SARS announced interim anti-dumping duties against those five countries, effective until June 2022.

Judging by what has happened since then, it seems ITAC will be subjected to a sustained attack not only on its interim and final findings, but on its methodology, independence and objectivity.

In short, ITAC could be accused of doing the government’s bidding, and for making the wrong findings based on the wrong reasons. That would not be a good outcome for an anti-dumping investigation by a respected and independent regulator.

FairPlay said last year that, if importers lose the game, they will “blame the ref”, but it’s more serious than that. We sincerely hope that, if ITAC’s final determination goes against them, chicken importers do not seek to bring the regulator into disrepute. The omens are not good.

The official importers’ line seems likely to be that dumping is not taking place, and even if it is, then it is not harming the local poultry industry. Therefore, there is no justification for anti-dumping duties. This was stated in January by Paul Matthew, CEO of the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE).

Matthew also accused the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) of applying “punitive tariffs” to paper over its inability to develop chicken exports. The implication could be that ITAC, housed in the DTIC complex, is somehow complicit in this.

Last year, Donald MacKay, trade advisor to AMIE, criticised ITAC over its methodologies in determining that anti-dumping duties against frozen potato chips imported from a number of EU countries are justified.

And this month David Wolpert, the previous CEO of AMIE, made an attack of his own, describing ITAC as “infamous” and the provisional anti-dumping duties as “insane”. He believed the decision was not based on a fair investigation, and implied that ITAC was under pressure to make it.

FairPlay responded, pointing out that the ITAC recommendation followed a due investigation, including detailed submissions from the countries and poultry producers involved.

We noted that an attempt to discredit ITAC is underway. That’s a huge pity, and it’s likely to get worse ahead of ITAC’s mid-year determination.