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Several organised agricultural leaders have condemned misleading newspaper reports which alleged that the South African government was forbidding white farmers from exporting their produce to Europe and the United Kingdom.
On 12 November 2023 Rapport’s leading story read “Wit boerderye mag nie uitvoer, sê staat” (White farms may not export, says state) and on the same day Maroela Media reported “Nuwe rasreëls oor landbou-uitvoere sal bedryf knou” (New racial laws on agricultural exports will harm industry).
Both publications referenced two sections published in the Government Gazette by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development on 31 October and 1 November respectively. These articles pertained to the procedural requirement for exports from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and Mozambique to the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK).
Theo Boshoff, CEO of Agbiz, said these requirements were not new. In fact, they became operational during the fourth quarter of 2016. Furthermore, the scope of these notices also did not apply to all agricultural exports. “For instance, it excludes fresh fruit, but still applies to several of our key exports to the EU or UK under the preferential Tariff Rate Quota.”
While it is understandable that it is easy to misinterpret these technical documents, it was crucial that media establishments get their facts straight when reporting on the matter. The reason for this was the fact that several crucial trade agreements were currently being reviewed with an eye to either extend or to improve upon them.
“Given the sensitive nature of these discussions, it is vital that public comments are made from a factual and contextualised point of view,” Boshoff said. “Factually incorrect or sensationalist media articles may harm the sector’s prospects as these agreements are being reviewed. We therefore urge all parties to refrain from reporting that is devoid of the correct facts and context.”
Impact on horticulture
Anton Rabe, executive director at Hortgro, said while fresh fruit wasn’t included in the lists of products listed in these trade agreements, agro-processed products, such as apple concentrate and canned fruits are impacted.
“We’ve received numerous inquiries from distressed growers,” Rabe told AgriOrbit, adding that it was crucial to note that the Gazette documents did not include any new information that was not included in the Agri BEE Charter. “It was very irresponsible to involve the BEE context in this manner. There are other requirements as well that are needed [for exports to the UK/EU], not just BEE. If we then want to talk about BEE, we must put it in its proper context and then have a debate about it without innuendos and insinuations.”
Rabe believed that these articles were a good example of “irresponsible journalism” and that it damaged South African agriculture’s image locally and internationally. “There will be repercussions for our international relationships, because this type of bad publicity cannot be good for those relationships.”
Rico Basson, CEO of South Africa Wine, also said these reports weren’t factually correct and the headlines were misleading. “I want to urge media to please verify facts before creating headlines that are negative to fostering partnerships with domestic and international stakeholders.”
Basson said the entire South African wine industry enjoyed tariff free quotas in respect of exports to both the UK and EU. These agreements allow the South African wine industry to export 71 million litres and 117 million litres of tariff-free wine to the UK and EU respectively at a ratio of 70% packaged and 30% bulk.
“This agreement has been in place with the EU for many years and after Brexit we were able to negotiate a deal with the UK as well,” Basson said, adding that these agreements were of great value to the wine industry, because it meant that the industry could export more profitably. “It has also helped us to do a lot of development.”
These quotas are renewed by DALRRD annually between October and November, and therefore the publication of the Gazette and the regulations was nothing out of the ordinary, Basson said.
“What wasn’t said in Rapport’s and other publications’ reporting was that smaller farmers and wineries that export – and there are many of them – are exempted from the BEE criteria that was listed,” Basson said, emphasising that it was crucial to understand that black economic empowerment was not compulsory for exportation.
“Unfortunately, these news reports are carried far and wide. Among others it was carried by [the international business publication] Bloomberg, who simply translated Rapport’s report without verifying the facts. This makes it very difficult for the industry when it comes to negotiating with other countries’ dignitaries.”
Basson said SA Wine was meeting with the British High Commission to discuss the UK’s situation to see if that market cannot be expanded. “From where they are sitting, it may look as though the agricultural sector does not want to transform or develop.” – Susan Marais, Plaas Media