Delaware probably got its best economic news in a long time this week, and few of us noticed. The big story is chickens. South Africa dropped what was essentially a 15-year-old ban on American-produced chickens.
By ending this 100 percent tariff, South Africa opened its markets to what could turn out to be a $65-million-a-year addition to the American poultry market. That certainly includes Delaware’s chicken growers. “If our product is better and more affordable, and it is, it will be a competitive product in the South African market,” Bill Satterfield, of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., told a reporter.
The development came to be after a multiyear fight led by Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia – a Democrat and a Republican, but both from chicken states. In fact, they are leaders of the Senate’s “chicken caucus.”
South Africa shut its markets to American poultry products 15 years ago. The aim was to protect local chicken producers. But South Africa was happy as could be to take advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, called AGOA. That act dropped U.S. tariffs on South African products. They were traded freely in the United States at the same time that country shut out American poultry growers.
However, AGOA was coming up for renewal. Like all such acts, it calls for fairness in trade. Sens. Coons and Isakson, after countless meetings, letters and a trip to South Africa, got the message across to that country’s leaders that the United States wanted the fairness clauses enforced. Translation: The renewed AGOA would not look kindly on such one-sided tariffs.
When the message sunk in, South African trade representatives started talking.
An agreement was finally reached. U.S. producers will be able to send 65,000 metric tons to South Africa. Again, that would be about $65 million a year for U.S. producers.
This is what trade negotiations are about.
U.S. farm products are shut out of many countries, sometimes for protectionist reasons, like South Africa’s, or for strategic reasons, like China and Russia.
These deals are not won and done. The protectionist forces in those countries will be back next year, this time using another pretext.
Dealing in agricultural product has problems of its own. Some of the press reaction in South Africa went directly to the point that the United States has active cases of avian influenza. Technically, that is correct. This is a large country, and the avian flu is in the western part of the country. Delaware and Georgia are free of it. If that changes, the whole process is in upheaval.
In other words, these victories are never permanently won.
For the time, though, Delaware’s economy just got a big boost. Congratulations to Sen. Coons and the Delmarva poultry industry.