Feathers flew on Thursday as about 100 poultry workers belonging to the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) staged a protest at the offices of the permanent European Union delegation in Pretoria.

Fawu, in a memorandum signed by the union’s general secretary, Katishi Masemola, called for the EU to immediately cease dumping of chicken in South African markets.

The union handed the memo to the EU representatives and in it, Fawu called for restrictions on EU poultry imports, which were allegedly responsible for bringing the domestic poultry industry to its knees.

"They (Fawu) stated (orally) that they will bring their complaint to Parliament and will escalate the matter further until solutions are found," said the EU delegation in a statement on Friday. It was signed by Massimo De Luca, the head of trade and economics.

"Today’s protest should be seen in the context of ongoing proceedings instituted in SA aiming at the imposition of safeguard duties on imports from the EU and the wider implementation of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) EU Economic Partnership Agreement," the EU Delegation said.

It said that SA's government had on November 16 conveyed its intention to impose a 13% safeguard measure on EU imports, contrary to trade agreements.

The union also said it was protesting against unfair trade practices, including the EU imposing phytosanitary barriers on South African imports into the bloc that were not reciprocated by South African authorities.

"As we speak, one of the poultry companies has earmarked (the retrenchment) of about 1,500 workers … as it loses R1m a day as a consequence of the EU dumping," the memorandum read.

Along with Brazil, the EU is the largest exporter of chicken to SA. Fawu said "dumped" foreign chicken imports now constituted about 35% of the domestic market. Meanwhile, SA only produced about 1% of world chicken output, it said.

The EU delegation said it took note of the grievances presented at the protest and had taken receipt of a memorandum presented to it.

"The EU delegation is aware of the effect that increased local chicken feed prices have had on production. Thus, there can be little doubt that the cost of chicken in SA has been negatively impacted upon by the recent drought.

"In this regard, the EU delegation is confident that with better rainfall and a resultant better maize crop, the competitiveness of the South African poultry industry will improve substantially," it said.

The fight over poultry imports has sent the domestic industry into a flutter. Recently, US chicken imports resumed following the conclusion of African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) trade negotiations between SA and the US.

Imports of US chicken of up to 140,000 tonnes per year were previously subjected to antidumping duties for a period of about 15 years.

However, agreement was reached on an import quota of 65,000 tonnes per year of US bone-in chicken pieces, on which antidumping duties will be waived.

Scott Pitman, MD of the consumer division of chicken producer RCL Foods, said imports of frozen poultry continued to grow exponentially, despite the rand having weakened substantially in recent years.

US poultry imports into SA still draw standard duties of 37%, but there are zero tariffs on EU chicken imports into the country.

The EU delegation also said on Friday that in the interests of consumers and jobs creation, it would continue to support initiatives — including through financial support — that seek to increase productivity in SA’s agricultural value chains, including in the local poultry industry.

"The EU delegation considers that open markets, as well as greater productivity and competitiveness, are crucial in realising opportunities and development benefits provided through international trade," it said.

It said it remained open to engagements with the South African government, as well as industry and labour participants.

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