LETTER: Shouting fire in the chicken coop
Dumping exists, but the poultry industry’s main problems are not imports
I refer to Francois Baird’s most recent letter (“Wolpert is wrong to dismiss the threat from dumping”, April 16). It is Baird who is totally incorrect. Having read two of David Wolpert’s letters on the subject, it is clear he views poultry dumping as wrong and threatening. However, he correctly considers the cries of impending doom for the local poultry industry, emanating from Baird and his colleagues, as hysterical attempts to exaggerate a genuine challenge.
In 1999 chicken imports represented 12% of the market (source: SA Poultry Association and customs & excise department). Imports are now sitting at about 15% (excluding noncomparable items such as mechanically deboned meat, which is not produced in SA). That’s growth of three percentage points in 22 years. Local poultry has grown by far more than that.
So where is the dire threat? The 2018 financial year, less than three years ago, was a record one for local poultry. Sales were reasonably good but margins and net profits reached record levels on the back of low feed costs. This happened despite “high” imports. Yet more proof that the industry’s main problems are not imports but the unpredictable and inconsistent cost of feed, and other economic challenges.
Yet the country is expected to believe that dumping is “perilous”. Again the currency of fear is used. We don’t need more proof that there’s no peril. SA is being conned year after year, for which we are paying a heavy financial price as consumers and taxpayers.
Peter Bruce, doyen of SA financial journalists, wrote in this newspaper that “the poultry sector master plan is a fundamentally protectionist charter, blaming imports for most of the industry’s problems even though they account for significantly less than 20 % of the market” (“Poor chicken industry, from a sweet to a sweat spot”, March 3). He went on to say that “one day when we have driven away all foreigners and are stuck with an avian virus we cannot control, and the poor run out of a critical source of protein, we will wonder where our friends are”.
Dumping exists. It must stop. But the country has had enough after 10 years of hearing shouts of fire in a crowded theatre.
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