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US Sets Deadline for South Africa Trade Imports

FILE - Chickens are seen at a chicken house near Livingston, Calif. South Africa has been given a March 15 deadline to allow U.S. poultry into the country or lose duty-free access for its farming exports.

South Africa has been given a March 15 deadline to allow U.S. poultry into the country or lose duty-free access for its farming exports under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), according to a proclamation issued Monday by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Last week, South Africa's Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, announced the two countries had completed negotiations on various meat imports, but U.S. Ambassador Michael Froman warned there were more hurdles for Pretoria.

Froman said the United States needed to ensure South Africans were able to purchase U.S. poultry products before confirming that South Africa could enjoy full AGOA benefits.

The U.S. proclamation reiterated that remark, saying, “Suspending the application of duty-free treatment to certain goods would be more effective in promoting compliance by South Africa with such requirements than terminating the designation of South Africa as a beneficiary."

A U.S. Trade Representative spokesman told Bloomberg news Tuesday, "With the substantive points resolved, we are able to move to the final benchmark: Testing the new system to make certain American poultry can be made available on store shelves in South Africa."

South Africa Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) spokesman Sidwell Medupe told local Fin24 the DTI would issue a statement regarding the U.S. proclamation later Tuesday.

If South Africa meets the March 15 deadline, Obama could revoke the proclamation or reinstate AGOA benefits after a suspension has taken place, the U.S. Trade Representative told South African media.

Obama had warned November 5 that he would revoke the duty-free status of South African agricultural produce unless Pretoria took action by the end of 2015 to loosen restrictions on U.S. farm exports.

Eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment is one of the criteria for membership of AGOA, which was renewed by the U.S. Congress in June and provides duty-free access to goods from sub-Saharan African countries, ranging from crude oil to clothing.

South Africa exported $176 million in agricultural products to the United States under AGOA in 2014 and potential lost benefits are estimated to total $4 million to $7 million.

Anita Powell in Johannesburg contributed to this report.