WASHINGTON – The Obama administration intends to suspend duty-free benefits granted to South African agricultural products because the country is not making progress toward eliminating trade barriers to US services and products, including beef, pork and poultry. South Africa has 60 days to comply.

The benefits are part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The US provides assistance to Sub-Saharan African countries based on progress in meeting certain criteria, including the establishment of a market-based economy, protecting worker rights, efforts to combat corruption and other criteria. The AGOA provides extensive trade preferences that allow virtually all marketable goods produced in AGOA-eligible countries enter the US duty-free.

Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said that while progress has been made in some areas, the issues of food safety contamination and animal health certification still need to be resolved. Brown said NCC supports the administration’s actions to hold South Africa accountable for failing to import US chicken.

“This should send a clear message to South Africa and their poultry industry that they will not be given a ‘Get out of jail free’ card every time AGOA rounds the turn to pass ‘Go,’” Brown said in a statement. “It makes no sense for the United States to give special preferences to countries that treat our trade unfairly.”

US Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), issued a joint statement saying that South Africa repeatedly failed to implement an agreement reached in June to end anti-dumping duties against US poultry, and missed a deadline to finalize the trade protocol and health certificate for US poultry.

“South Africa does not deserve to receive benefits under AGOA as long as they refuse to drop unfair trade policies that have effectively slammed the door on American chicken imports for over a decade,” the statement said. “There is still time to address these issues, and we hope the President’s action today spurs South Africa to open their market to American poultry immediately.”

In response to the Obama administration’s action, the South Africa Department of Trade and Industry said the country has been making progress during the past few months to implement the deal.

“These issues are about animal health and are very complex — a balance has to be found between trade opening and animal health,” the agency said. “In the case of the poultry issue the negotiation has been more complex because the US is seeking an agreement on the health standards/regulations that would obtain if/when there is another outbreak of avian influenza in the United States. The US requires South Africa to keep the market open to US poultry from those US states that are not affected during such an outbreak.”