After five anxious months of a virtual export standstill, the local wool industry can finally breathe again. The people’s republic of China – the destination of 70% of South African wool exports – has taken a decision to lift restrictions due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
The unbanning was confirmed moments ago by the departments of agriculture, land reform and rural development and trade, industry and competition.
In a statement issued by her department, agriculture minister Thoko Didiza said she welcomed China’s unbanning of wool imports from South Africa. The ban would have cost the industry about R734.15 million in revenue, industry experts told Food For Mzansi.
This would have been an irrecoverable loss to the industry if the restrictions continued.
The department said the ban on wool which was harvested in the last season would have irrecoverably dented the wool industry since this year’s harvest is in full swing. This means the industry would have had to bear losing two seasons’ worth of exports.
“We welcome the decision by the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China to lift the ban on the wool and other cloven-hoofed animals’ skin products imported from South Africa as announced today” said Didiza.
The ban, instituted by China on 1 April this year, following outbreaks of FMD in North West, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. The ban was a cause of great concern for the industry, because China is South Africa’s primary wool export market, accounting for roughly 70% of exports in value terms.
The wool export industry is worth R1 billion. South Africa produces over 42 million kilograms of wool from 8000 commercial sheep farmers. Added to this number are 40 000 communal smallholder farmers who contribute about 14% of the total wool exports.
Trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel also welcomed the decision by China.
“The engagements with the People’s Republic of China have been conducted in a positive manner and the coordinated efforts by different parts of the SA government greatly assisted,” said Patel.
What’s the long-term solution?
While this is great news for the industry, one sheep farmer in the Eastern Cape believes long-term solutions must be sought.
In a previous article, Eben du Plessis told Food For Mzansi that South Africa needed to develop its own capacity to process wool locally, and said that the industry was pursuing this idea. However, du Plessis knows that it will not happen overnight.
He has managed to avoid retrenching any staff members to date despite the months-long export ban, but is actively looking for other income streams. “We are very fortunate to have a very proactive organisation in the wool industry. I am very confident that they are doing everything in their power to make sure that we as producers can sell our products.”
De Beer says the long-term solution is for South Africa to develop its own capacity to process wool locally. He acknowledges that the industry is pursuing the idea, but he also knows that it will not happen overnight.
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