The clucking in the agricultural sector has recently upped the ante on the issue of tariffs. Just last month The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters filed a court petition to have some light shed on what import prices would look like in the near future, this was in response to the SA Poultry Association’s application for an increase in import duties on chicken. This turn of events has sparked debates in the nation over the possible consequences of increased tariffs on chicken. South Africa is a braai nation and everyone has something to say about anything that will affect the braai culture.
South Africans far and wide believe that the country is capable of producing enough of its own agricultural products to meet domestic demands without importing from other nations. No one can blame people who make this assumption, South Africa’s land is fertile, the workforce is large and in recent years become more skilled in agricultural production, but whether or not the country can produce enough to feed itself is another matter.
Brand South Africa has grown in leaps and bounds, the country patriotically adopted the “Proudly South African” movement, doing their part to grow the economy by buying products with the logo stamped on them! Everyone wants to be a proud South African, but one wonders if that sentiment will continue if the price of chicken goes up because the doors will be shut to imports.
In recent months the agricultural industry has been petitioning the government to increase tariffs on chicken imports, the reasoning has been that South African poultry operations have been put at risk due to the flooding of the market with cheap chicken from Brazil and the European Union. The South African shopper, whose budget has been affected by the negative economic environment, has opted to buy cheap Brazilian chicken over, wholesome South African chicken, which inevitably costs more. This according to the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa has put the poultry industry in jeopardy, with farms closing, thousands of jobs in the industry being lost and the surviving poultry businesses losing millions of Rands in profit.
Aside from the impact on prices that an increase in import tariffs would cause, the Association of Meat importers and Exporters has also warned that the health of the public might be negatively affected by a decrease in the consumption of chicken, as it is the only source of protein for certain sectors of the population, a sentiment that is yet to be weighed on by health professionals.
The question though, that is on many minds of spectators of this hen house drama is, why South African chicken isn’t as competitive as Brazilian chicken. It boggles the mind to imagine how meat farmed oceans away would cost less than meat farmed at home. Some skeptics believe that instead of protection, the industry needs to become more competitive and innovative, because consumers will react to a reduction in choice and an increase in prices, simply by finding alternatives and the industry will be no better off than it was before. Whether an increase in import tariffs will be approved is yet to be seen, but in the meantime, the volume of cackling between opposite sides on this debate is not set to decrease anytime soon.