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Poultry sector must unite on imports matter - Davies
CAPE TOWN: The poultry sector should come together and approach the Department of Trade and Industry if it wants relief in the form of trade measures or other measures against imports of chicken meat, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, said on Tuesday, 12 February 2013.
In June last year, Brazil filed a dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over anti-dumping measures initiated by South Africa over chicken meat imported from the South American country.
Speaking at an engagement by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe with farmers at Val de Vie Estate, near Paarl, Davies said there was no consistent message coming from those in the poultry sector, with some wanting to import chicken and others not, making it difficult for his department to take action.
He said chicken imports from Brazil were increasing despite anti-dumping duties.
"Come with a consistent message that we want to support poultry production in South Africa as was said, that we want a poultry tariff in South Africa at the expense of the ever increasing imports that are coming into this country, and you are pushing at an open door.
"I'm prepared to act actually. If any interest group, whoever they may be, makes a coherent application (to the department)..." said Davies.
He was responding to Koos Blankenberg, a board member of Grain SA, who called on Davies to put in place a tariff on chicken if the country was to create more jobs in the agriculture sector. He added that a third of chicken consumed in South Africa was imported, largely from Brazil.
During the dialogue session, farmers raised concern about how the sector would remain competitive with the gazetting last week of the R105 minimum wage a day for farmworkers. They also called on tariff increases and incentives to protect the sector.
Farmers also said the government could help repair roads and ensure the delivery of quality water supplies to farms.
Speaking at the end of the session, Motlanthe said government had an interest to ensure that the sector was sustainable and profitable, if it was to collect sufficient tax revenue for the fiscus.
"We must attend to those issues that give rise to the destabilisation of the sector and that disrupt the productivity of the sector," he said.
He said the agricultural sector was facing challenges which needed to be attended to, especially the issue of what to do with seasonal farmworkers during the off season.
Temporary farmworkers could be trained in other specialties, such as horticulture, so that they could become productive during those periods when they were not needed on farms, he said.
Motlanthe said he would like the engagement with farmers and representative from farming sectors to be an ongoing one.
During the dialogue, farmers and farm representatives raised several concerns.
Michael Loubscher, chairperson of the Hex River Valley Association, said farmers in his association were concerned about the future of the labour intensive table-grape sector following the gazetting of the new minimum wage of R105 earlier this month. He called on the Land Bank to step up finance to farmers by offering low-interest rate funding.
John Purchase, the chief executive of the Agri-biz, raised concern over rising costs in the sector, which would affect the competitiveness of South African agriculture, and said incentives and tariffs were necessary to revitalise the sector.
African Farmers Association of SA (Afasa) president, Mike Mlengana, called for a tax incentive for farmers that created and sustained jobs in the sector, and also asked that the Department of Trade and Industry make incentives accessible to farmers.
Mlengana said though his organisation was not against the new R105 minimum wage, which will come into effect in March, smallholder farmers would be affected by the wage increases.
Emerging farmers that had settled on land which had been bought by the government should also have land titles handed over to them when they moved onto the land, rather than only after the farmer had repaid to the government the cost of the land.
Without access to title deeds, farmers were reluctant to invest more in their farms, he said.
He also called upon the government to source food from smallholder farmers, which would help improve food security and create opportunities for black farmers.
Responding to farmers and farm representatives, Davies said his department would be happy to have a discussion about how to get involved in incentives for the agriculture sector - whether these were run out of the Department of Trade and Industry or another other department.
His department's incentives in the agricultural sector were aimed at co-operatives and agro-processing businesses.
He agreed that a new image for agriculture needed to be fostered and said agriculture was in a "game-changing" mode.
"We have got to be able to say that there is ethical trading that we ourselves are conducting in South Africa..." he said.
Value chains needed to be taken back into the local sector - with about 45% of the value of agriculture derived by retailers and distributors outside of the country.
Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said government had spent billions of rands on bailing out emerging farmers who had land titles, but couldn't service their loans.
Part of helping emerging farmers, he said, was by withholding the title until the cost of the purchase was settled with the government.
Emerging farmers also needed to ensure that they have clear heirs to take over their farms by ensuring that they send their children to agricultural schools.
To address this, government has helped to train more than 1 000 youth and will allocate them state land this year so that they can begin farming.
He said farm equity schemes were problematic as farmworkers were not part of the governance and ownership of the farm.
Commenting on the farmworkers' strike last month in the Western Cape, Nkwinti said violence in strikes undermined the rights of those who wished to strike as it drew the police into getting involved.
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