South Africa hopeful of meeting target to end U.S. trade dispute

South Africa is confident of meeting a deadline next week to resolve a trade dispute with the U.S. that will allow it to retain duty-free access for farm exports, a top trade official said.

“We are totally committed to finding a resolution,” Lionel October, the director-general of South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, said by phone from Cape Town.

In a Nov. 6 letter to Congress, President Barack Obama said South Africa continued to impose several longstanding barriers to U.S. trade and had been given 60 days to take remedial action or face suspension of some of its trade preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.

Veterinarians from the two countries are in daily contact to try to resolve outstanding issues relating to testing of U.S. imports of poultry and pork for salmonella and other diseases, October said. They hope to issue final protocols in the next few days, he said.

“We have made the concessions on pork and beef imports,” he said. “We and the U.S. Embassy are getting the vets to issue the final health and safety protocols. We will issue a statement on January 4” indicating what progress has been made, he said.

AGOA, renewed by U.S. lawmakers in June, eliminates import levies on more than 7,000 products ranging from textiles to manufactured items and benefits 39 sub-Saharan African nations. To remain beneficiaries, countries are required to eliminate barriers to U.S. trade and investment, operate a market-based economy, protect workers’ rights and implement economic policies to reduce poverty.

The trade program has helped South Africa more than double its exports to the U.S. since 2000. Shipments under the agreement accounted for more than a fifth of the nation’s exports to the U.S. last year, according to data compiled by the Trade Law Centre, based in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town. Total two-way trade between South Africa and the U.S. was about $14 billion last year.