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Chicken imports rising again in 2024

Home Agriculture Chicken imports rising again in 2024

CHICKEN import volumes rose by 11% in 2023, ending four years of annual decreases since imports peaked in 2018. Further increases were recorded in January, according to FairPlay.

Total poultry imports rose by nearly 20% in December, and again in January. Chicken imports – nearly 95% of all poultry imports – were up 19.9% on a monthly basis in January, on top of a 17.5% increase in December.

There are a number of interesting features that will be watched closely as 2024 progresses. They include a potential resurgence of bone-in imports. These are the frozen portions such as leg quarters, wings and drumsticks that worry domestic producers because they compete with local packs of individual quick frozen (IQF) chicken, a major portion of the local market.

Bone-in portions have been dumped in South Africa in huge volumes over decades, resulting in contraction, crisis and the loss of thousands of jobs. Every one of the nine approvals of anti-dumping duties against producer countries has involved bone-in portions.

However, a combination of bird flu, Covid-19 disruptions and trade restrictions resulted in a steady and substantial decrease since import volumes peaked in 2018.

Bone-in imports in 2023 came to 71 000 tonnes, less than half of the 163 000 tonnes imported in 2020 and way below the 287 000 tonnes recorded in 2018.

Now there have been monthly increases of 20% in December followed by 11% in January. This may not yet be a reversal of the downward trend, but the import tariff rebates for the first three months of the year, possibly to be repeated for the second quarter, are likely to give bone-in imports a further boost. The rebates will reduce the tariff for non-EU countries from 62% to 37%.

The January increase happened despite a drop in imports from the United States, which has been the main supplier of bone-in imports but is suffering from widespread bird flu outbreaks. Argentina and the European Union have made up the difference.

While imports of bone-in portions have decreased over the years, offal and mechanically deboned meat (MDM) volumes have not. MDM is a paste used in the production of processed meats such as polony, and most of it comes from Brazil. Both MDM and offal imports are at their highest levels since 2020 and the increase continued in January.

Brazil supplied 82% of South Africa’s chicken imports last year, with steadily rising volumes which increased a further 24% in January.

The EU used to be the main source of chicken imports until it was ravaged by bird flu. Now volumes are increasing again, so far from only two countries but with possibly more to come. EU imports come in free of the general tariffs that apply to other countries.

This year could be another year of acute import pain for a struggling South African poultry industry.

FairPlay is a not-for-profit advocacy movement founded in 2016 to combat dumping and predatory trade.

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