Windhoek — Namibia is to send a high-powered delegation from all sectors of the livestock and meat industry to Geneva to present its case before the Sanitary and Phyto Sanitary (SPS) Committee of the World Trade Organisation from March 16 to 17, in a bid to oppose soon-to-be-announced livestock import restrictions by South Africa.
The delegation will include representatives from the Directorate of Veterinary Services, the Agricultural Trade Forum and agricultural unions, as well as the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development.
General manager of the Meat Board Paul Strydom confirmed on Tuesday that the Meat Board, in cooperation with the Directorate Veterinary Services, the Agriculture Trade Forum, agricultural unions and the Directorate of Planning, is currently making preparations to state Namibia's case at the highest forum in Switzerland.
The Namibian team will present its case in light of South Africa's expected new requirements that would make livestock exports by Namibia virtually impossible.
"Namibia's position is that the issue has to be solved bilaterally to the benefit of both countries by way of negotiations, and that should the import conditions be implemented, it has to be done on a differentiated basis over a period of time.
"It is hoped that South Africa will agree to such a process, seeing that the impact on the Namibian livestock exports and the meat industry could be catastrophic," the Meat Board stated.
Stakeholders in Namibia's N$2 billion livestock export industry are on the edges of their seats after the last round of negotiations in January regarding the South African authorities' plan to push through additional animal health requirements for Namibian livestock imports, which, if implemented, could bring the local industry to its knees.
As coordinator of the negotiations, the Meat Board met the deadline of January 8 to answer South Africa on the various issues the neighbouring country is basing its proposed new livestock imports from Namibia on.
"We have not received any feedback to date, but expect an announcement by the SA authorities any day now," Strydom said.
It is expected that South Africa will adopt the new restrictions before the end of February, after which the regulations will be implemented six months later.
Namibia is now preparing to address the SPS Committee to acquire some breathing space before the implementation and to activate its own Master Plan after the Livestock Producers Association (LPO) of Namibia and the Namibian Agricultural Union last week officially requested President Hage Geingob to intervene and save the industry.
Namibia currently exports some 180 000 weaners, 90 000 sheep and 250 000 goats to South Africa every year and the N$2 billion industry is the livelihood of especially small-scale and communal farmers.
The Namibian delegation - which is yet to be named - will put forward its strongest case possible to avoid such a catastrophe, as some 75 percent of communal farmers depend on livestock exports to SA for their livelihood.
Chairperson of the Livestock Producers Organisation (LPO) Mecki Schneider has described the requirements as "trade restrictions requested by the SA Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO), because they have no system in place to control the flow of animals to and from South Africa".
It turns out the revised regulations have not changed from the previous publication, on which the Namibian industry has already commented extensively. The stringent regulations were imposed overnight in May 2013 and devastated the local livestock export industry, resulting in losses of billions of Namibia dollars.
Furthermore, the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) asked its sister organisation, Agri SA, for support. Various emergency measures have also been put in place and the LPO has instructed a private company to undertake an independent risk analysis on the health status of Namibian livestock.
An irate Schneider told New Era the South African RPO, which has relentlessly been pushing for these import regulations for livestock from Namibia, is not playing a fair game.
"The RPO can't be serious. They have not asked for the same stringent requirements for exports of Namibian game to their country. Why just our livestock, which has been declared free of any animal health diseases by the WHO (World Health organisation) for decades?"
The Meat Board has since 2013 been putting short-, medium- and long-term strategies in place in case of such a scenario as the one unfolding now. These measures include the transformation of the Namibian weaner industry to an oxen production system.
In 2013 government requested the small stock industry (abattoirs and producers) to make a joint proposal of alternatives to the Small Stock Marketing Scheme.
On November 4 last year, a delegation from the Livestock Producers Forum (LPF) and the Meat Board was invited to make presentations to the Cabinet Committee on Trade and Economic Development in this regard.
The joint industry proposal is that all limiting measures with regards to small stock marketing be repealed.
The proposal was favourably considered by the said committee and has been submitted to Cabinet for consideration.