U.S. pork industry players, miffed about South Africa's restrictions on U.S. exports of the meat, are pushing lawmakers to revamp the administration's enforcement mechanisms when it reauthorizes the African Growth and Opportunity Act before its scheduled expiration next year.

First passed in 2000, AGOA offers duty-free access to U.S. markets to 32 eligible sub-Saharan African countries for more than 1,800 products, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. It requires these countries to adhere to a list of requirements, including progress toward a market-based economy and ending “barriers to U.S. trade and investment.”

Under AGOA , South Africa exported more than $3.6 billion in products to the United States in 2022, the National Pork Producers Council told the House Ways and Means Committee at a recent hearing. 

But South Africa’s sanitary and phytosanitary standards hinder U.S. access to its pork market — an indication that it is not meeting its barrier-reducing requirements under AGOA, the group argued.

“South Africa has yet to remove these trade barriers and has not limited control, inspection, and approval requirements to what is reasonable, necessary and appropriate” despite repeated requests from U.S. government and industry officials, the group told the committee.

Continued restrictions indicate South Africa "is not meeting its AGOA obligations — commitments it made during the 2015 AGOA reauthorization — to make continual progress on eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment,” NPPC said.

South Africa’s Department of Trade, Industry and Competition pushed back against the criticisms last year in a comment to USTR, calling its policies “reasonable and fair.” The rules are “aimed at protecting human health and the animal health in South Africa,” the department contended.

“All countries that South Africa imports pork from need to mitigate these risks of animal disease and thus these restrictions are not aimed at the U.S. specifically, but are applied to all trade partners,” the agency said.

Erin Borror, USMEFErin Borrer, U.S. Meat Export Federation

There is demand in South Africa for pork. U.S. Meat Export Federation Vice President of Economic Analysis Erin Borrer said South Africa's pork imports peaked at 44,000 metric tons in 2018. Germany initially filled much of South Africa’s demand until it was hit by African swine fever in 2020, leading Spain to take over as South Africa’s largest supplier.

This year, South Africa’s pork imports totaled 15,721 metric tons in the first five months of this year, a 17% increase from last year, Borrer said. The EU is now South Africa’s top pork supplier at 13,250 metric tons, followed by Brazil with 2,836 metric, the UK with 2,471 metric tons and then the United States.

“Demand for pork overall has increased over the past four years because it has been priced very economically in terms of local supply values,” Borrer said in a written response to questions from Agri-Pulse. “There are opportunities for lower value variety meats and particularly pork hearts, as these are utilized in further processing in South Africa. We see demand for ribs and sow ribs currently, but this interest is especially price-sensitive.”

U.S. pork and pork variety meat exports to South Africa increased 47% in the first five months of  this year, totaling 245 metric tons, or about $423,000, Borrer said.

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Last year, the United States sold South Africa only 313 metric tons of pork, just 1.3% of South Africa’s pork imports.

“We’re the largest exporter of pork now, yet we can’t even get into South Africa,” Maria Zieba, NPPC vice president of government affairs, told Agri-Pulse. “That should be concerning to all lawmakers and the U.S. public, especially given that we do have such a high quality product.”

One of NPPC’s criticisms is that South Africa does not allow access for U.S. pork offal, heat-treated or canned pork and casings. South Africa attributed the limited volume of such products to health and disease prevention standards. Pork offal, the agency said in the comment, was excluded during original AGOA negotiations due to an outbreak of Aujeszkey’s Disease (pseudorabies) in the U.S. While Washington later requested market access, it had not provided South Africa a clause that addressed instances of disease by the time the comment was filed last year, the agency said.

South Africa’s restrictions on heat-treated and canned pork came from its concerns about the “U.S. health certificate program for heat-treated/canned goods,” the department said. In terms of imported casings, it alleged that “USDA refuses to seal consignments” despite South Africa requiring “imported casings to be in sealed containers to prevent manipulation during transit.”

NPPC also opposes a requirement that lymph nodes be removed from shoulder cuts, which the group calls unjustified, saying the country has provided no guidance. The South African agency, in response, said it made concessions to allow pork shoulder cuts with lymph nodes to be imported if they are heat treated for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

South Africa also has freezing requirements for pork to kill trichinae, despite NPPC noting the parasite “is not present in U.S. commercial pork production” and the U.S. does not require freezing for that reason. The South African department argued in last year’s comment that it has requested surveillance information from the U.S., but had not received a response.

Finally, South Africa limits pork cuts imports due to concerns about PRRS and pseudorabies virus (PRV) which NPPC calls “inconsistent with U.S. and international standards.” 

South Africa, in response, said the measures were “extensively consulted through the WTO process” and that inadvertent introduction of PRRS “will be very costly to our industry.” 

“Given the scientific evidence of the risk posed by lymph nodes present in connective tissues, we are not in a position to waive this requirement and allow pork imports without the necessary risk mitigation,” the agency said.

ZiebaMaria Zieba .jpegMaria Zieba, NPPC told Agri-Pulse her group is pushing for stronger mechanisms USTR can utilize to enforce compliance with AGOA. 

"There is a need for high quality, safe and affordable pork. They are a pork-consuming country and what we’re just asking is for them to live up to commitments they said they were going to live up to eight years ago when we were in the middle of negotiations," she said.

South Africa’s regulations have fueled criticism from 27 House members in a letter saying that the it “refuses to follow international standards on pork products or uphold market access commitments made during AGOA reauthorization.” In the letter, they urged USTR to press the South African government to expand pork market access for U.S. producers.

“This is a big export market that we can continue to grow,” Iowa Republican Randy Feenstra, one of the letter’s signers, told Agri-Pulse in an interview. “But if we don’t have these agreements and don’t continue to abide by these agreements, then we have massive problems.”

Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and James Risch, R-Idaho, introduced a bill to renew AGOA through 2041. The bill, according to a summary, provides a menu of options for enforcement, "including full termination of benefits, termination of benefits for certain products, issuance of a warning letter providing notice that benefits will be terminated in the following year without corrective action and the option to take no action, if U.S. interests are best served by taking no action."

Matt Copeland, USMEF's Africa representative, said his group plans to send more sample products to South African importers, distributors and processors and expects to bring “key market players” from the country to the United States next year. He added that USDA’s Regional Agricultural Promotion Program could be a “game changer” in improving the U.S. pork trade relationship with the region.

“If these additional program dollars can be paired with improved market access, USMEF sees a bright opportunity for U.S. pork in the South African market,” Copeland said. 

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