A mood of uncertainty has developed in South Africa’s wool industry following a ban on exports of cloven-hoofed animals and their products from South Africa to China. As the main destination for Mzansi’s wool exports, China’s sudden ban has local players worried that the move could cripple the industry.
China instituted the ban on 1 April this year, citing the recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in North West, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
Cape Wools SA general manager Deon Saayman says the ban will have a negative impact on the industry and possibly lead to job losses and an economic dip. “Unless urgent intervention is sought, the industry is going to find it difficult to come back.”
Saayman says the importance of the South African wool industry cannot be overemphasised. It supports around 40 000 communal and 8 000 commercial farmers, their families, their dependants and all farmworkers along with their dependants.
The South African wool clip furthermore generates some R6 billion in export revenue every year.
Naturally, the ban also has a massive impact on the many South African industries that export large volumes of cloven-hoofed animals and their products to China.
Fearing another eight-month-long ban
This is not the first time that China prohibits imports from South Africa due to FMD outbreaks. The first ban was in 2019 and lasted eights months. Exports could only resume once South Africa had put a host of new measures in place.
“These measures included registration of facilities to export to China and inactivation of the foot-and-mouth virus as detailed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
“[As] these measures are still strictly enforced, the announcement of a blanket ban on cloven-hoofed-derived products from South Africa, which includes wool, comes as a surprise,” Saayman says.
A wool farmer in the Eastern Cape, Eben du Plessis, cautions that producers cannot afford another ban that lasts several months.
“There is no way that farmers can survive that. Not getting any income from the wool season will be very devastating.”
Du Plessis adds that the ban comes as some farmers are still recovering from the devastating effects of recent droughts, and they were hoping to recover previously endured costs through their seasonal wool clip income.
“Now [there] is uncertainty and wool auctions have been stopped indefinitely. So [there] is a lot of financial uncertainty and instability in this economy.” The pressures of fuel hikes and the FMD outbreaks are also affecting meat prices, creating a further hurdle to sheep farmers.
The way forward
The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development says officials are working around the clock to ensure that the ban is lifted as it threatens the industry.
Departmental spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo tells Food For Mzansi says it is normal for trade partners to suspend imports from countries that have reported cases of foot-and-mouth disease.
However, “all consignments which have been sent to China have met the import requirements for wool exported to China, and [have been] certified so by the state veterinarian,” Ngcobo says.
The department is therefore now trying to resolve the matter amicably. “The department has already made contact with China directly and will continue to communicate [as the situation] unfolds.”
Meanwhile, role players in the wool industry say they have engaged with both national and international stakeholders to impress on them that its wool already complies with export requirements in being FMD-free and should be excluded from the current ban.
Wool auctions in the country have been postponed in the interim until more clarity can be obtained from the Chinese authorities on the duration and exact nature of the ban.
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