WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2015 -- President Barack Obama says he’ll suspend all duty-free treatment of South African agricultural exports to the U.S. within 60 days unless the country makes some progress toward eliminating barriers to shipments of certain U.S. farm products, including chicken, pork and beef.

South Africa is one of the beneficiaries of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which was enacted 15 years ago to allow nations from that continent duty-free access to the U.S. market. Last year, the country shipped $1.7 billion of goods to the U.S. under AGOA and an additional $1.3 billion under another initiative, the Generalized System of Preferences, according to the National Pork Producers Council (NPCC). Obama’s action is focused on AGOA.

In a letter to the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate, Obama said he was acting because South Africa “continues to impose several longstanding barriers to U.S. trade” and has failed to make “continual progress toward the elimination” of such barriers, as required by AGOA.

South Africa on Oct. 15 missed a deadline by which it was to have finalized parts of an agreement reached earlier in the year in Paris. The agreement required South Africa to issue a protocol for avian influenza – which the country has cited as a reason to block U.S. poultry shipments -- and a health certificate for U.S. poultry. The U.S. has insisted that South Africa follow World Organization for Animal Health guidelines and use a regional approach for any bird flu bans, but South Africa continues to resist that approach.

After the Oct. 15 deadline passed, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Delaware’s two Democratic senators, Chris Coons and Tom Carper, called on the White House to take action,

“South Africa must take the necessary steps to resolve outstanding barriers to U.S. poultry immediately if its AGOA benefits are to be preserved,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “Hardworking poultry farmers in our home states and across the country should not have to wait any longer to participate in the South African market.”

Georgia and Delaware are both major poultry producer. The industry contributes over $15 billion annually to the state’s economy and about $4.6 billion to Delaware’s economy.

NPPC also has been urging the administration to withdraw or limit trade benefits for South Africa because of that country’s reluctance to provide market access to U.S. pork and other products.

“South Africa has been willing to use U.S. preferential trade programs but is unwilling to extend even customary equitable treatment to imports of pork from the United States,” NPPC President Ron Prestage said in a statement. “The U.S. is the top global exporter of pork, shipping it to more than 100 nations every year. But because of non-science-based restrictions that don’t pass the red face test, we can’t ship pork to South Africa.”

NPPC said South Africa enforces import restrictions on U.S. pork to prevent diseases for which there are negligible risks of transmission from U.S. products. The country’s Ministry of Agriculture restricts pork because of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), for example, even though there is no documented scientific case of PRRS being transmitted to domestic livestock through imported pork.

In his warning letter, Obama said he decided that suspending South Africa’s benefits from AGOA – as opposed to ending its designation as a beneficiary country – “would better promote continuing efforts … to resolve these outstanding issues.”

“Although South Africa has to date failed to meet critical benchmarks required to address these issues, it continues to express an interest in resolving U.S. concerns,” Obama said. “I will continue to assess whether South Africa is making continual progress toward the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment in accordance with AGOA eligibility requirements, as well as whether this suspension of benefits is effective in promoting compliance with those requirements.”


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