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Big retailers stay away from poultry crisis engagement in Parliament

| Supplier news

Retail giants did not pitch up for a public engagement on the crisis in the poultry industry in Parliament on Tuesday, and have been summoned to attend another one next week.

Chairperson of the trade and industry portfolio committee Joan Fubbs said while the retailers had explained their absence it was not acceptable that they were not present.

Pick n Pay, Shoprite-Checkers, Woolworths and Spar were invited to make submissions to the committee, which has been holding public hearings on the pressures faced by the poultry industry following reports of plant closures and retrenchments.

The South African Poultry Association has blamed the flood of cheap imports of bone-in chicken portions from the EU for the problems but the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters as well as the EU delegation in SA have put the blame on the lack of competitiveness and structure of the domestic industry.

While two retailers made written submissions, these were deemed to be inadequate by the committee. In a letter to the committee, Shoprite-Checkers said it reviewed chicken prices weekly due to the sensitivity of chicken prices. Over a 12-month period, the retailer said its margins ranged from between -2% to 2%.

DA MP Dean Macpherson said it was "highly bizarre" that the four retailers were unable to send a single representative to engage with the committee, considering how many people they employed. He wanted the committee to issue subpoenas to ensure their presence at next week’s hearing.

"The committee has been holding discussions with poultry producers, poultry feed associations and the Department of Trade and Industry to better understand the problems that face the industry. However, it is impossible to get the full picture if the big four retailers fail to adequately engage in the hearings so we can better understand the full chain of costs relating to poultry and ultimately what the consumer finally pays for chicken," Macpherson said.

ANC MP Bheki Radebe highlighted the "appalling" exploitation of workers by poultry producers, saying they were being deprived of their full wages by labour brokers.

The EU delegation to SA gave its point of view on Tuesday. Its trade and economics counsellor in SA Dessislava Choumelova emphasised that the difficulties being experienced by the South African poultry industry should not undermine the mutually beneficial trade relationship the country has with the EU.

In the EU’s view, the problems experienced by the poultry industry require an industrial policy rather than a trade policy response, as they stemmed from the structure of the industry.

Choumelova highlighted the importance of the trade relationship between the EU and SA, which was one of the few strategic partners that the EU maintained worldwide.

The overall trade balance between the EU and SA was currently almost neutral, which she said was a very positive development given SA’s trade deficit with the EU in the previous six years.

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