A Closer Look

Fair Comment or Fowl Play?

FairPlay produced false statistics to push for higher tariffs on imported chicken.

“There are lies, damn lies, and statistics,” said Mark Twain, when coining a phrase describing the persuasive power of statistics to bolster weak arguments.

And that is exactly what the South African Poultry Producer’s newsletter Fairplay (SAPA’s mouthpiece) did last week

Fairplay produced ‘statistics’ to show that South Africa was drowning in a 600% increase in dumped imported chicken since Minister Patel suspended punitive anti-dumping tariffs last August.  This ‘revealed the extent of the damage to the local poultry industry’ caused by ‘government intransigence’ grumbled Fairplay.

This would all be very alarming if it was true.  The opposite is, in fact, the case.  Imports have been declining since the tariffs were suspended – by more than a third.

So how did Fairplay arrive at this figure?  

FairPlay once again manipulated the trade statistics to suit their narrative of dumping

They took stats for August 2022 – a month with a low import volume of 572 metric tons – and compared it with stats for April 2023 which had a high volume of imports of 3530 metric tons (see Figure 1) conveniently ignoring all the differing monthly volumes in between. This is problematic as FairPlay is Looking at a six month period before the anti-dumping duties were suspended.

When FairPlay are talking about this huge increase in Brazilian chicken imports it is important to look at the numbers in the right context and not just compare a month of low imported volumes with a month of high imported volumes. Let’s take a look at Brazil’s Chicken bone-in imports since 2021:

Brazil’s Chicken bone-in imports since 2021

Figure 1: SARS Trade Statistics, 26th July 2023
Figure 1: SARS Trade Statistics, 26th July 2023

 

 

 

 

ChickenFacts considers the actual figures

In order to present more realistic statistics, if one took the average of imports since the tariffs were suspended (1661 metric tons per month) and compared them with the same average before the suspension (2867 metric tons per month), it is easy to see that imports have actually declined by more than a third in that time (see Figure 2).

If one took the actual volume and not just the average, the figures would be a total of 25 811 metric tons for the nine months before the suspension and 14 953 for the nine months afterward.  Now – just how can that be a 600% increase?

Monthly Average Chicken Bone-In Cuts Imported into South Africa

Figure 2: SARS Trade Statistics, 26th July 2023
Figure 2: SARS Trade Statistics, 26th July 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairplay also, in passing, took a swipe at MDM.

(Mechanically Deboned Meat – the principal ingredient of polony and vienna sausages), complaining that MDM was imported in huge quantities with no tariffs at all.  FairPlay conveniently overlooks the fact that MDM is not manufactured in South Africa in any significant quantity.  A decrease in MDM imports or a tariff on MDM would impact the price of polony and viennas significantly, affecting lower-income households the most.

So why is Fairplay doing this? 

The reason is quite transparent.  Last year’s tariff suspension is up for review.  Fairplay is fearmongering in order to put pressure on the government to reinstate tariffs.  They paint a picture of an industry under siege from predatory imports when in reality the threats to the local poultry industry are domestic – loadshedding, water supply, infrastructure collapse, crime, and social unrest.

The South African poultry industry is uncompetitive.  By its own admission, it cannot even compete with imports that already carry a standard 62% import tariff. Punitive tariffs are therefore necessary to protect profits.

The problem in the South African poultry industry is not imports.  It is the very structure of the industry itself, the barriers to entry for emerging farmers, domestic challenges, and policy paralysis.

Adding to the problems is an ‘every-man-for-himself’ attitude amongst the large poultry producers which – as we can see from Fairplay’s willingness to bend facts to suit their narrative – is stifling the industry’s growth.

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