By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa is close to signing an agreement to allow 65,000 tonnes of poultry imports from the United States, a special envoy for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) said on Wednesday, sealing a deal agreed in June.
South Africa imposes "anti-dumping" duties of above 100 percent on certain chicken products and industry groups said removing those import barriers opened a market which had been closed for the last 15 years.
Although both sides agreed on a pact in Paris in June for South Africa to end the ban, Pretoria has raised concerns over health risks due to an Avian Flu outbreak which killed nearly 50 million birds in the United States.
"We're very close to finalising these technical outstanding poultry issues that need to be resolved," Ambassador Faizel Ismail, South Africa's special envoy for AGOA, told Reuters.
"The vets are making progress. Our vets are in constant communication with the vets from the U.S. on how the U.S. can continue to export poultry in the event of another outbreak in one or other states."
The two sides had set a deadline of Oct. 15 to seal the terms and conditions before the U.S. could resume the exports.
The agreement would see the United States emerge as one of the top poultry exporters to Africa's most advanced economy.
AGOA is a U.S. non-reciprocal trade preference initiative providing duty-free treatment to U.S. imports of certain products from eligible sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. Under the deal, first signed in 2000, African exports to the United States rose to $26.8 billion by 2013.
In an effort to boost trade under AGOA, renewed by Congress for a decade in June, the U.S. is reviewing South Africa's eligibility in the trade pact but warned that there are still major issues that remain unresolved which could see South Africa lose as much as $1.7 billion of exports a year.
"South Africa needs to take concrete steps towards eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment, a key criterion to be eligible for AGOA trade benefits," Trevor Kincaid a U.S. Trade Representative deputy assistant said in response to questions via email.
There are also concerns over the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill awaiting presidential assent to become law. Critics of the bill say it restricts ownership of private security firms in South Africa by international investors.
South Africa has so far only received partial access to the U.S market under AGOA, such as car exports that have risen to $1.4 billion in 2014 from $289 million in 2001.