China deal a ‘big step forward’ for SA

SA agricultural industry LEADERS have welcomed the export agreements that were signed with last week, saying the deals will open up huge new markets for SA produce and result in cost savings for exporters.Issue Date: 16 February 2007

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SA agricultural industry LEADERS have welcomed the export agreements that were signed with last week, saying the deals will open up huge new markets for SA produce and result in cost savings for exporters.

Chinese president Hu Jintao visited the country last Tuesday as part of his eight-nation African tour to consolidate bilateral political and economic relations, and sign trade agreements between SA and China. Agreements signed included protocols on phytosanitary requirements for the export of table grapes and tobacco from SA to China, the import of apples and pears from China to SA, and an amended agreement on citrus. Elaine Alexander, executive director of the SA Table Grape Industry, said the biggest advantage of the protocol is that it opens an additional market for table grapes.

 “This will eventually alleviate the oversupply problems often experienced in the UK and Europe where the majority of our products are sold,” Alexander said, adding that as the Chinese economy continues to grow, this market segment will increase. According to Alexander, the protocol for grapes into China is reasonably strict, but the industry already complies with similar criteria in other markets. “There should be no problems for our growers and exporters,” she said.

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Christo van Staden, managing director of Afgri Tobacco, said the agreement will open a huge market for SA tobacco. The protocol will revive the industry after it was plunged into turmoil with the consolidation of factories. Many farmers were also forced out of business due to the strong rand.

“The Chinese are very specific in what they require and South Africa produces a high quality tobacco leaf. We grow the kind of tobacco China wants,” he said. SA currently produces 12 000 tons of tobacco a year, of which 8 000 tons are sold locally and the other 4 000 tons will be exported to China.

Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA), said although the citrus protocol is not new, two significant amendments to the protocol will be signed. “China has opened a southern port for us and this will be a tremendous saving on transport costs. That is a big step forward,” he said. I n addition, the biennial inspections required by the previous protocol can now be carried out by the Department of Agriculture, instead of by Chinese officials. “This is a huge cost saving as the CGA has to fund the inspections every time,” he said.

They will apply to register an additional 590 orchards for export of fruit, bringing the total to about 1 000 orchards. “means most of the orchards will be registered. A lot of the new ones will be from the Eastern Cape, which is significant for that area,” he said. Chadwick said the market is lucrative because as incomes increase, consumers will eat more imported fruit. “They will also buy more fruit as gifts,” he said, adding that an alternative market such as is crucial to relieving pressure on existing markets.

Chadwick commended the contribution of the agricultural attaché Mono Machaba in securing the protocol. “He has been a tremendous help. It is essential to have someone there pressing the issue all the time, otherwise your application is stalled,” he said. D r Martyn Davies, director of the Centre for Studies at Stellenbosch University, said in signing the agreements SA will diversify its exports. “Adding fruit to the rather mineral-dominated export basket could silence critics who have accused China’s increasing engagement in Africa as being only resource-based,” Dr Davies said.

 Agriculture department spokesperson Priscilla Tsotso Sehoole said inspectors are in SA inspecting table grape production areas, after which tobacco production areas will be inspected. In September, a team of SA experts will visit for approval of exports of apples and pears from that country. If both sides comply with the required standards, implementation of the protocols will be initiated. At last year’s Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Jintao announced an eight-point plan that will forge new strategic partnerships and strengthen ties between China and Africa. plan is set to have significant benefits for agricultural trade, science and technology in Africa. – Wilma den Hartigh