Business Day

Move to offer protection from EU farm products

- AMANDA VISSER Pretoria Correspond­ent

IN A bid to shield SA’s agricultur­al sector from cheaper European Union (EU) imports, the government has made it easier for local producers to apply for quota limits on dutyfree EU imports.

SA’s Internatio­nal Trade Administra­tion Commission this month, for the first time, published guidelines for “safeguard applicatio­ns” in agricultur­e. It is expected the number of applicatio­ns against the EU will increase, which could lead to fewer EU farm imports or more expensive imports.

The move comes as World Trade Organisati­on chief Pascal Lamy warned: “The threat of protection­ism may be greater now than at any time since the start of the crisis, since other policies to restore growth have been tried and found wanting.”

IN AN effort to protect SA’s agricultur­al sector from European Union (EU) imports, the Internatio­nal Trade Administra­tion (Itac) has published guidelines for safeguard applicatio­ns.

This is the first time Itac has done so since SA concluded its trade developmen­t and co-operation agreement (TDCA) with the EU in 1999.

Trade Law Chambers director Rian Geldenhuys said it was expected that applicatio­ns against the EU would rise, possibly leading to fewer agricultur­al imports from the bloc or more expensive imports.

There has been much unhappines­s about the effect of the trade agreement on the local agricultur­al sector. But uncertaint­y about the process for evoking safeguards has resulted in only two such applicatio­ns since the agreement was implemente­d, according to experts.

Last month, Itac chief commission­er Siyabulela Tsengiwe said local agro-processing companies were struggling to compete against imports from the EU that entered the local market duty-free because of the trade agreement.

Mr Geldenhuys said the draft guidelines Itac published should be welcomed as it would shorten the time the body took to investigat­e an applicatio­n. In addition, applicants would not have to prove a surge in imports as was required under article 24 of the trade agreement or that the EU is dumping agricultur­al products in SA.

They would only need to prove the imports have harmed them.

Mr Geldenhuys said there had been criticism that the TDCA was not a balanced agreement as SA “liberalise­d” more than it should have if compared with the EU.

SA has a legal framework which allows for the imposition of safeguard measures, but it has not been of much help to the agricultur­al industry. This was mainly because the trade agreement set up a dif- ferent method for the safeguards in respect of agricultur­al trade between SA and the EU.

As there has never been any guidance on how this will work, no one has applied until recently.

According to the draft guidelines published in the Government Gazette on Friday, provisiona­l measures can be implemente­d immediatel­y if an applicant is able to show there are “exceptiona­l circumstan­ces”. The measures would apply pending a final decision.

The TDCA consists of three areas of agreement. It consists of a free trade agreement between the EU and SA, developmen­t aid as well as economic and social co-operation, among other things.

The publicatio­n of the draft guidelines also come at a time when the World Trade Organisati­on (WTO) slashed its forecast for global trade growth this year to 3.3% from 4.5%.

WTO director-general Pascal Lamy warned that things might be worse than expected this year, especially because of risks from the euro crisis and countries trying to restrict trade further in a desperate attempt to shore up growth. “The threat of protection­ism may be greater now than at any time since the start of the crisis — other policies to restore growth have been tried and found wanting.” With Reuters

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