A brood of white laying hens is shown on a poultry farm. Picture: 123RF/FORMAT35
A brood of white laying hens is shown on a poultry farm. Picture: 123RF/FORMAT35

This week marks two months since the poultry industry master plan was signed. Yet while SA goes back to work in a new year, chicken industry workers enter 2020 with continuing uncertainty about their future, while those hoping for jobs in a new, expanded industry wait in vain.

The reason is the failure of the government to announce new tariffs to protect workers and their jobs against dumped chicken imports from Brazil. A decision has been on hold, but two months after the chicken industry master plan promised to “contain” imports nothing has happened.

Tariffs are the unspoken foundation of the master plan. Without that protection an otherwise laudable programme, with multiple benefits for the government as well as the industry and its workers, may wither and die.

The chicken industry needs to stabilise and then recover and expand. Stabilisation comes first. Then will come the expansion, including into export markets, as promised by the master plan.

It’s an ambitious programme, and the clock is ticking. There are multiple deliverables over two years, starting with reviewing regulations to prevent the illegal thawing and refreezing of imported chicken, and developing and updating poultry disease notices, which are essential for the new export drive.

Both of these activities should already have started. The deadlines for action by the government, the industry and chicken importers will now start falling thick and fast, with many tasks to be completed by March and many more by midyear.

It is past time for trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel to announce the tariffs on Brazilian chicken for which the industry and it workers have been waiting since December 2018. Announcing a strong tariff regime now will reassure the industry and its workers that the minister is serious about ensuring that all elements of the master plan are completed and implemented on time.

Francois Baird, FairPlay

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