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Agoa: US sceptical about SA’s commitment?

IOL pic july22 chicks poultry

Shopprice South Africa

 

Pretoria – US President Barack Obama’s decision on Monday to go ahead and provisionally suspend South Africa’s agricultural benefits under Agoa – despite the two countries reaching agreement on all outstanding issues last week – appears to reflect some residual scepticism by the US that South Africa will do what it said it would do.

But if South Africa moves quickly enough to allow US poultry into the country by March 15, the suspension will not come into effect.

Obama issued a proclamation late on Monday suspending the duty-free access of South African agricultural products into the US market under Agoa – the African Growth and Opportunity Act. But the proclamation also said the suspension would only come into effect on March 15 this year.

Poultry-(R)

This came as something of a surprise since last week South African and US officials had agreed on the terms for allowing US poultry, beef and pork into the South African market. South Africa has been blocking these imports, citing health concerns about diseases in the meat. But veterinary experts on both sides agreed last Wednesday on measures to deal with those concerns, opening the way for the meat to come in.

The barriers to the three meats entering South Africa were the main reasons Obama provisionally suspended South Africa’s agricultural Agoa benefits on November 5 last year. But he gave South Africa 60 days – effectively until January 4 – to comply with US conditions. A fourth condition, though, was that US poultry should actually be on South African shelves by January 4.

It was because this deadline was not met, that Obama issued the proclamation, US embassy spokesperson Cindy Harvey explained in a statement.

She stressed that “no suspension of benefits is taking place today” and added that Obama’s extension of the effective date for suspending South Africa’s Agoa benefits to March 15 “creates an opportunity for American poultry to enter into commerce in South Africa prior to the suspension of benefits”.

“Now that the substantive points of disagreement have been resolved, we hope and expect the resumption of trade in the three meats to take place smoothly and expeditiously,” Harvey said.

“If the remaining benchmark – the entry of US poultry into South Africa under the agreed-upon conditions – is met before March 15, 2016, the president will be able to consider a revocation of the proclamation before suspension takes effect.

“The president can also reinstate full Agoa benefits for South Africa any time after he has determined that South Africa is meeting the criteria laid out by the Congress.”

The proclamation may be in part a formality, the fulfilment of what he said he would do on November 5. But it may also reflect some residual uncertainty by the US government that South Africa will move expeditiously to implement last week’s agreements.

Throughout the drawn-out negotiations over removing the barriers to US meat imports, US officials have complained that South Africa has agreed to remove obstacles, but then found new obstacles.

And so the US Trade Representative Michael Froman, who would have advised Obama to issue the proclamation, may have felt the US needed to keep some sort of sword still handing over South Africa’s head to encourage it not to dawdle.

 

Couces: iol

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