While choppy waters may have calmed at the Port of Cape Town, disruptions at the hands of the covid-19 pandemic have unmasked many challenges at the troubled port, say exporters of agricultural produce.
Exports of most agricultural products have been proceeding apace, with a reported 140 million cartons of export approved citrus crops on their way to foreign markets and the wine industry also happy to resuscitate their international business.
Under harder lockdown alert levels, the port was running below capacity, causing the export logistics industry headaches because of vessel delays and bottlenecks.
Amid the easing of restrictions under lockdown level two, operations have since normalised with covid-19 positive cases among port staff reduced to a manageable level. Things are looking up, confirms port manager, Mpumi Dweba Kwetana.
“May the terminal continue to take its performance to new heights and encourage the return of more container business to the Port of Cape Town,” she says.
The situation has improved significantly, but the road to recovery is going to require much needed improvements and careful planning to mitigate challenges ahead, says operational manager of the Fresh Produce Exporters Forum (FPEF), Werner Van Rooyen.
“Covid-19 is an unknown phenomenon which we couldn’t plan for. We didn’t know how it would manifest, we didn’t know how to approach it and also some of the measures that were implemented by government required us to definitely take hands and (collaboratively) work on it,” he says.
“There were numerous challenges, but with successful engagement with Transnet we mitigated most of them to some extent,” Van Rooyen explains.
Communications manager for Wines of South Africa (WoSA), Maryna Callow, says the month of July saw a good upturn in exports of wine. The wine industry is hopeful that momentum will continue for the rest of the year.
The wine industry had been the amongst the hardest hit casualties of the coronavirus, but since the lifting of the alcohol ban the sector seems set for a speedy recovery.
“Exports are looking good, if July figures are anything to go by, we feel positive that this month (August) will be also reflect positive figures. The port is pretty much operational on a level that we could say is normal.”
Meanwhile the citrus industry is beaming as the season draws to a close, says chief executive officer of the Citrus Growers Association, Justin Chadwick.
The citrus industry has reached 90% of export season and has reached a record volume, Chadwick says.
“Markets have been strong because of the demand for vitamin C and the perception that it is a remedy for colds and flu and an immune booster,” he says.
The global pandemic, he adds, could have potentially put a strain on international consumer relations.
“We are still unsure about the quality on arrival of some of the consignments because they were terribly delayed, with problems mostly at the Port of Cape Town. We still have to do some assessment of quality impact by the end of the year.”
“In the past we have been able to deliver on time with exactly the right quality and this year that will be impacted by the delays,” says Chadwick.
Government lends a hand
A key concern remains with the Cape Town Multipurpose Terminal says Van Rooyen.
“We need to pre-plan as an industry together with government. We need to sit at a round table and plan for the future and the effectiveness of exports and economic growth in the fresh fruit industry.”
Pre-planning is the key to a sustainable future. “Regular engagement, sharing information, transparency and assisting and supporting each other along the value chain is very important,” Van Rooyen says.
In order to improve the country’s export environment, the department of trade, industry and competition has launched the Export Barriers Monitoring Mechanism (EBMM) to provide support to exporters facing barriers.
In a recent media release by the department of trade, industry and competition Lerato Mataboge, director general of export development, promotion and outward investments, says by creating a systemic approach to monitoring barriers government can develop a long-term agenda to mitigate export challenges.
Travel restrictions as part of the national covid-19 lockdown wreaked havoc on the agricultural export industry and proved to be a logistical nightmare for many producers who raced against time to export fresh produce.
The EBMM was launched early this week.
“While our priority must be to work progressively to smooth these barriers, the experience of the last decade of trade has demonstrated that we need to be prepared to manage this growing complexity,” Mataboge says.
“Increasingly, a key component of global competitiveness will be how we manage a constantly changing global trading environment. Managing this environment will only be possible through a close working partnership between the government and the private sector.”
- Edited on 12 September 2020 to correct export volumes.