Agri SA has written to Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development Thoko Didiza to request her urgent intervention after Botswana and Namibia took unilateral action to block a number of South African agricultural commodities from entering their borders. With the jobs and revenue at stake, government must immediately respond to this unjustified action in violation of the Southern Africa Customs Union Agreement.
The bans currently include tomatoes, potatoes, beetroot, cabbage, and coloured peppers amongst other commodities.
The actions by Botswana and Namibia are particularly egregious as they do not stem from any wrongdoing by South African farmers. Rather, these countries have cited the need to protect their own local production even as they continue to export their produce to South Africa. And this is not a short-term measure. The government of Botswana only plans to review the bans in two years, and it has already indicated that this review will likely expand – not reduce – the list of protected products.
The South African government must therefore act immediately to arrest and reverse this damaging trend. If government cannot secure the reversal of these unilateral bans, Agri SA is calling on government to implement reciprocal measures and take such further action as is necessary to protect local farmers. This includes the possible halting of payments to these countries from the Common Revenue Pool (the fund consisting of all customs, excise and additional duties collected in the Common Customs Area) until the borders are re-opened to South African commodities.
Unfortunately, despite the threat the bans pose to the South African economy, the Agricultural Trade Forum has had no response to its requests for engagement with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). This is deeply worrying given the implications of these unjustified bans.
South African farmers already faces immense competitive challenges as the national minimum wage of R23,19 far exceeds the labour costs in Namibia and Botswana at R12,23 and R5,05 respectively. The additional hardship the bans put on South African farmers violate the letter and the spirit of the Southern Africa Customs Union Agreements.
Agri SA has also become aware of alleged efforts to encourage South African farmers to shift operations to these neighbouring countries, and if these bans are in furtherance of this agenda, South Africa must act to protect local operations and local jobs.
South Africa has to date been slow to act in demanding that SACU member states comply with the Agreement. This has been so even as produce from Botswana has introduced the Tuta Absoluta pest to South Africa. That our accommodating approach to the Agreement has been met with these harmful bans demands a response from the South African government.
It is imperative that DALRRD meets with the Agricultural Trade Forum as a matter of urgency, and that it takes appropriate action before the agricultural sector suffers irreparable damage.
Source: Agri SA