The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has dismissed reports that it is preventing white farmers from exporting agricultural products to the European Union and the UK.
However, Southern Africa Agri Initiative (Saai) chairman Theo de Jager said the regulations discriminate against white farmers and hurt food security.
On Sunday, Rapport reported that new regulations will prevent many white-owned farms from obtaining permits to export products to Europe and the United Kingdom.
It followed regulations regarding agricultural exports published by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development two weeks ago.
The regulations state that permits will be allocated based on the Preferential Market Access Permit Allocation System.
The first consideration for getting a permit is applicants’ Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) status.
Permits issued for exporting agricultural products are subject to the Agricultural Black Economic Empowerment (AgriBEE) Sector Code.
AgriBEE determines the status of an enterprise using five elements – ownership, management control, skills development, enterprise and supplier development, and socio-economic development.
City Press reported that under the rules, farmers must meet specific black economic empowerment targets to continue obtaining export permits.
The guidelines will apply to agricultural businesses with a minimum annual turnover of R10 million.
However, the Department of Agriculture hit back, saying the gazettes aimed to take advantage of preferential Tariff Rate Quotas for certain products.
“The weekend newspapers misrepresented the government’s message about the procedure and annual application for export permits to the EU and UK markets,” it said.
The department publishes the procedural requirements annually for the permitting system.
One requirement states that an applicant must comply with sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, rules of origin and other factors in the bilateral agreements.
The allocation of the quotas considers the applicants’ market share, the quota applied for, the total available quota, the number of applicants, and their BBBEE status.
“These requirements are not new, and there is no threshold or level that an applicant must reach to be awarded a permit,” the department said.
“The BBBEE status of the applicant is but one factor that must be considered in conjunction with all other factors.”
It added that the scope of the notices and Gazettes only apply to specific products and excludes fresh fruit.
Daily Investor asked the department whether any farming business had been penalised because of their AgriBEE status, but it did not answer this question.
Democratic Alliance takes the matter further
The Democratic Alliance (DA) said it was taking the matter further as race quotas will further devastate the South African economy.
Noko Masipa, the DA’s shadow minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, said they lodged a complaint with the EU and UK trade offices.
“The ANC government is imposing trade barriers on the very export businesses we desperately need to create more jobs,” Masipa said.
“The government is wilfully and deliberately destroying jobs and livelihoods and depriving business owners and workers of economic export opportunities.”
He said the economic consequences of the race quotas on the agricultural sector will be devastating.
In 2022, the country recorded US$12.8 billion in agricultural exports – of which 20% went to the EU and 4% went to the UK.
“Instead of empowering this sector, the ANC is deliberately imposing as many obstacles as possible in the way of job creation,” Masipa said.
“The ANC is directly endangering the jobs and livelihoods of the 800,000 people employed in the agriculture sector, which accounts for over 2.4% of our country’s annual economic output.”
“These race quotas for agricultural exports are part of a deliberate ANC agenda to destroy jobs on the altar of race.”
He said the DA will continue to lead the fight against job-killing quotas, which are being implemented across many sectors.
“We have already gone to court to declare the race quotas imposed by the Employment Equity Act unconstitutional. We will similarly lead the fight against these destructive new export quotas.”
Southern African Agri Initiative slates regulations
De Jager said the race-based rules undermine investor security, job creation, and growth in the nation’s agricultural sector.
“The measures fall far outside the framework of internationally acceptable protocols,” De Jager told City Press.
“We will fight against it in every local and international forum, in courts and multilateral agencies of the UN and the African Union.”
He told Nuuspod it does not matter whether it is new and how many times the regulations had been published before.
“We are dealing with a fundamental injustice where the government creates a revenue barrier for farmers based on race,” he said.
“If you perform above a certain level and are a white farmer, you must share your success or risk to be penalised.”
He said these regulations opened the door for black-economic empowerment requirements to spread to other agricultural areas.
“If you accept the current BEE requirements, you will not be able to stop it from being implemented to all agricultural exports,” he said.
He explained that many farms are family-owned businesses where getting a black partner to comply with AgriBEE requirements is unfeasible.
“It is difficult enough for a father and son to farm together. What about forcing a partner into your farming business, which you never wanted there,” he said.