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AMIE squawks about chicken brining to WTO

| Legislation

The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters of SA (AMIE) has written to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) complaining about threatened changes to the rules on the injection of brine into chickens.

AMIE is at odds with local poultry producers over the level of brining that should be allowed in chicken portions. Brine is a solution of salt and water that is used for salting and pickling meats.

At issue is the price competitiveness of local chicken compared to imported chicken.

The South African Poultry Association is lobbying for a 25% level of brine in chicken portions, as opposed to the offer of 15% by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The poultry association has accepted the government’s proposed limit of 10% for whole birds. Caught in between is Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana, who has to set brining levels, balancing the viability of both the producers, and the importers and exporters.

AMIE said it had no issue with the 10% for whole birds but it supported the government’s proposal for 15% on chicken portions.

A lower percentage of brine in chicken portions would result in an increase in the price of the local product and would enhance the competitiveness of imports.

According to the letter, written by the association’s CEO David Wolpert, the government had, through a 2013 notification, advised the WTO that it intended to limit brining levels to 15% for chicken cuts and 10% for whole birds.

These new levels were supposed to have come into effect in March. However, they were not implemented as negotiations were still said to be taking place between the government and industry players.

Mr Wolpert said AMIE supported the proposed brining levels recommended to the WTO by the government in 2013. But it now appeared that Mr Zokwana was negotiating with the poultry association about new levels, which "will effectively renege on SA’s promise to the WTO".

Mr Zokwana met the association last month to thrash out a compromise on proposed regulations on brining. CEO Kevin Lovell said "considerable progress" had been made on how to approach the three main issues in dispute, namely the level of brine in chicken portions, the need for the brining regulations to be enforceable and for them to provide for continuous monitoring.

"We believe that the South African government’s reticence to honour its own commitments is borne out of a desire to unfairly protect the domestic poultry industry. This would undermine fair trade," Mr Wolpert said in the letter addressed to the chairman of the WTO’s committee on technical barriers to trade, Lanza Suazo.

"We are deeply concerned about (SA’s) failure to adopt poultry injection regulations that it had previously committed to doing."

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