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The ‘bucket full of holes’: trying to stop unfair chicken imports

The tightly regulated poultry industry in the European Union would not survive the level of chicken imports that have hit the South African market.

This is the view of Izaak Breitenbach of the SA Poultry Association, in a German TV documentary shown there last month.

The channel ZDF looked at the impact of imported chicken portions, from highly subsidised EU producers, on the South African broiler industry, commenting that German consumers eat mainly breast meat “and we sell inferior parts abroad”. EU producers made billions of Euros in mini-profits from these “leftovers”.

The impact of chicken imports was particularly severe on small chicken farmers in South Africa, where almost half of the small farmers had gone out of business in 2019, ZDF said.

Referring the current application for anti-dumping duties against Brazil, Denmark, Ireland, Poland and Spain, Breitenbach said South Africa wanted to prevent the “unjust share of imports” so the local industry could grow. An additional 15 000 jobs would support 60 000 people, he said. “If Europe tolerated this high level of imports, the EU chicken industry would go bankrupt.” 

ZDF said German producers were undermining existing anti-dumping duties against that country by exporting chicken through Denmark. Breitenbach agreed that duties were being evaded.

“What we find is that if we raise anti-dumping duties against an EU country, a neighbouring country simply opens the floodgates and exports increase there.

“It’s like a bucket full of holes. In 2021 we will fill all the holes. If we can’t, then it will be devastating for our chicken industry.” ZDF said South Africa was demanding for itself what the EU had long had: the opportunity to defend its poultry industry and create jobs in an economic crisis.

And the EU pretends it’s about competitiveness

The EU has a simplistic answer for the South African chicken industry’s woes: increase your competitiveness.

It’s the same explanation given by the EU in 2017 after FairPlay and trade union leaders marched on the EU offices in Pretoria to demand an end to job-killing EU chicken dumping.

This ignored that fact that one of Europe’s leading agricultural research institutes at the University of Wageningen just found that South African chicken producers were more efficient than every EU country.

Now the message is repeated by Mariam Garcia Ferrer, the EU spokesperson on trade and industry. “South Africa needs to change its strategy,” she told ZDF. “So far they have concentrated on limiting imports, instead of making their own chicken industry more competitive.”

The reality is that it’s the EU that is extremely effective at limiting imports, and it’s their uncompetitive EU chicken producers that are dumping unwanted “leftovers” on the SA market.

The documentary, Das Hühner-Dilemma, is shown in German. To watch it in English, turn on subtitles and select ‘translate to English’ in your browser’s address bar.