Picture: The Herald
Picture: The Herald

Chicken imports reached a new record high in 2018 worsening the crisis facing the domestic chicken industry, the SA Poultry Association (Sapa) says.

It based its conclusions on data on chicken imports drawn from official Sars statistics.

The chicken industry has long been under the siege of rival imports, particularly of bone-in-chicken portions, and has shed hundreds of jobs as a result.

Sapa successfully applied to the International Trade Administration Commission (Itac) for safeguard duties against European chicken imports. It has also recently applied for a hike in the ad valorem tariff (the levying of tax or customs duties) proportionate to the estimated value of the goods or transaction concerned) duties for bone-in and boneless chicken portions to 82% from the current tariffs of 12% for boneless portions and 37% for bone-in cuts.

Sapa reported on Friday that imports in 2018 were 19% higher than the five-year average from 2013 to 2017. Brazil has become the dominant source of imported chicken, accounting for 60.5% of poultry imports in 2018. Poultry imports from Brazil increased from 241,180 tonnes in 2015 to 348,155 tonnes last year.

“These continuing high volumes of imports show that the crisis facing our chicken industry is real and getting worse,” said GM of Sapa’s broiler organisation Izaak Breitenbach. “Every tonne of imports represents SA jobs lost or not created. Sapa has calculated that we could create 30,000 jobs by replacing chicken imports.

“The relentless surge of imports illustrates the need for the government to step in and protect the local industry and the thousands of jobs involved. We are an efficient industry, but we cannot compete against imports dumped below the cost of production, or from countries with a long history of agricultural subsidies.”

The Sapa report showed that imports in 2018 totaled 538,434 tonnes, an increase on the previous record year of 2016, when 528,108 tonnes of chicken entered the country. Imports dipped slightly in 2017 due to outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) in the EU.

“However, Brazil quickly increased its exports, filling the gap left by EU producers, becoming the major source of both frozen broiler portions and of mechanically deboned meat (MDM), which is used in the food processing industry,” Breitenbach noted.

According to Sapa, total frozen broiler imports rose from 368,201 tonnes in 2015 to 538,434 tonnes in 2018. The value of all poultry imports in 2018, including MDM, was R6bn. Frozen chicken portions, including bone-in ones, went up from 221,218 tonnes in 2014 to 383,297 tonnes last year. Imports of frozen bone-in portions went up 23.2% to 287,071 tonnes in 2018.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za