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SA, US close to meat trade resolution

The country missed a 15 October deadline to agree on new animal health and food safety rules.

FILE: Chickens in cages waiting to be sold in Alexandra township. Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa and the United States are close to concluding discussions to settle a dispute over US poultry and meat exports which threatens to dent trade and diplomatic relations between the two countries, Pretoria said on Thursday.

US President Barack Obama said last week that unless South Africa lifted a ban on US poultry imports he planned to revoke duty-free status for South African agricultural goods in 60 days.

South African President Jacob Zuma said in a statement that he had a "warm" telephone conversation with Obama to discuss a number of issues, including the meat import dispute.

The United States moved to suspend trade benefits for South African farm products on Thursday, escalating a drawn-out dispute over US chicken and meat exports.

Last month, Obama said he planned to revoke duty-free status for South African agricultural goods in 60 days under a programme set up to help African exporters.

"I am taking this step because South Africa continues to impose several longstanding barriers to US trade, including barriers affecting certain US agricultural exports," he said in a letter to Congress.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman said South Africa could still avoid the suspension, which could cost it up to $7 million in lost benefits, if it met benchmarks to eliminate barriers to US poultry, pork, and beef.

South Africa has banned US poultry imports since last December after an outbreak of bird flu. The measure came on top of 15 years of punitive import duties on some US chicken products.

The country missed a 15 October deadline to agree on new animal health and food safety rules, which also affect US beef and pork exports, prompting the United States to warn that its eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade programme was at risk.

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