Hundreds of South African poultry workers protest against imports

By Tanisha Heiberg

By Tanisha Heiberg

PRETORIA (Reuters) - More than 300 union members and representatives from the poultry industry marched through South Africa's capital Pretoria on Wednesday to protest against chicken imports they say are destroying their business and threatening jobs.

The poultry business in South Africa has been fighting against competition from producers in Brazil, the European Union and the United States with industry experts predicting thousands of job losses.

Carrying placards with the words: "EU dumping destroys jobs" and "We demand fair play", the workers clad in green, red and yellow shirts representing their respective unions disrupted traffic in the city's streets.

The workers delivered a list of their demands at the European Union offices, including a call to end dumping.

"These chicken pieces are sold below the cost of production which constitutes unlawful dumping," a memorandum handed by representatives from the poultry industry and the unions to EU officials said.

Domestic producers have long complained about cheap imports from overseas companies of chicken portions still on the bone, popular locally but generally less favoured by consumers in the United States and Europe.

EU officials rejected the dumping claims, saying the local industry was suffering from various factors, including higher drought-induced feed prices.

"This is something we have to reject fully. As we speak now there is no dumping charge against European producers," EU head of trade, Massimo De Luca, told reporters on the sidelines of the march.

The EU contributed 63.1 percent of the total poultry imports into South Africa in November, according to the latest data from the South African Poultry Association.

South African poultry producer, RCL Foods, cut 1,350 jobs and reduced production by 50 pct at its Hammersdale factory in the KwaZulu-Natal province in November. Listed counterpart Astral also cut production as it felt the adverse effects of an over-supplied domestic market. [nL8N1DV58H]

"We have to get a message across to the EU that their dumping is harming our industry," Astral managing director of agriculture, Gary Arnold, who attended the march, said.

South Africa, which has a preferential trade agreement with the EU, in December last year introduced a provisional safeguard duty of 13.9 percent on chicken imports until July this year in response to the industry's problems.

Local trade agency International Trade and Administration Commission has launched investigations into the poultry industry to address the crisis in the domestic market.

(Editing by James Macharia. Editing by Jane Merriman)