Race rules on exports may be ‘old news’, but they are causing renewed concern

Henry

The two notifications regarding export permits that the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development recently issued in the government Gazette published are not new notices according to some industry organisations.

The notices on 31 October and 1 November in the government Gazette ‘s wording is not only consistent with previous notices therein, but also applies to only a few agricultural products.

Hortgro, the trade body for soft fruit in South Africa, says this includes jam, canned fruit, fruit juice and wine – but not fresh fruit.

Whether it was published two days or two years ago and whether it applies to many or few products, it remains worrying, say stakeholders in the agricultural sector.

However, others believe that it is not at all necessary for specifically white farmers to lie awake at night about the regulations regarding market access to the European Union (EU) and Britain.

According to a report in the Sunday newspaper Report will “new rules” that quietly in the government Gazette has been published, farms that are “too white” are no longer allowed to export to Britain and the EU.

According to the report, in terms of the regulations, farms will have to meet strict empowerment requirements in order to obtain export permits.

However, Theo Boshoff, Agbiz’s CEO, says the statement is factually incorrect and misleading.

“These requirements are not new and reflect the previous years’ requirements.”

Boshoff then points out that there is no threshold or level that an applicant must reach for the grant of a permit. “The BBSEB status of the applicant is also just one factor that must be considered together with all other factors.”

Dr. Theo de Jager, executive chairman of Saai, says the regulations also only apply to certain products to certain countries, “but nothing stops the state from expanding them once the principle is established”.

“It doesn’t matter how many organizations it supports, how long it has been in effect or how many exports are affected – the principle that entrepreneurs are limited to a certain turnover ceiling based on skin color remains a fundamental injustice.”

Hortgro also says the notices are old news and do not apply to fresh fruit.

“Black empowerment in the context of quotas is not a requirement, but part of the assessment criteria for awarding, as was previously the case,” says Anton Rabe, executive director of Hortgro.

However, De Jager says that although certain agricultural organizations that largely represent agricultural businesses claim that the regulations are not new or unexpected, they do not take their implications on family farms into account.

“Black economic empowerment requirements for farmers who want to export farm products are morally unjustifiable and can have disastrous consequences for the viability of family farms and for the rural economy.”

Letter to superiors

Noko Masipa, the DA’s shadow minister for agriculture, land reform and rural development, has already sent a letter to Valdis Dombrovskis, EU trade commissioner, and Kemi Badenoch, British minister of business and trade, to notify notices 4020 and 4023 in the government Gazette bring to their attention.

Masipa explains in these letters that the notices mean that an agricultural producer who has the “wrong” skin color is effectively prevented from exporting their products.

“This amounts to a flagrant form of unfair racial discrimination,” says Masipa in the letters.

According to Masipa, this also indirectly increases the cost of doing business for agricultural exporters in South Africa.

Masipa then points out that the South African government’s refusal of market access for agricultural exporters on the basis of race “from an EU perspective” is not in line with the EU’s trade policy.

“The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that the EU has with South Africa is based on the protection of human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law. With a clause establishing these standards as ‘essential elements’ of the EPA, the EU … has the right to adopt ‘appropriate measures’ in respect of the party that has breached the essential elements of the agreement.”

In maintaining these “essential elements to trade agreements, parties to EU EPAs are obliged to refrain from adopting policies contrary to those values,” Masipa says in his letters.

Masipa therefore requests that Dombrovskis and Badenoch remind the South African government of its obligations under the EPA and that “the unfair and racially discriminatory procedures” be tabled before the European Parliament for review.