PRETORIA - South Africa still hopes to solve a dispute with the United States over farm exports, despite the expiry of a U.S.-set deadline that could penalize exports of agricultural goods to the world's top economy.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Nov. 5 that he would revoke the duty-free status of South African agricultural produce, including oranges and macadamia nuts, unless Pretoria took action by the end of the year to loosen restrictions on U.S. farm exports.
South Africa did sign an agreement with the United States on Nov. 17 to resume importing 65,000 tons of chicken each year, which had become bogged down over health concerns.
However, South African Trade and Industry minister Rob Davies said on Monday his government was keen to meet outstanding requirements on beef exports to South Africa, and that discussions between Pretoria and Washington were ongoing.
Using a soccer analogy, he said the talks had gone into "extra time" but that the "final whistle" had not been blown.
At stake is South Africa's membership of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a U.S. program designed to help African exporters.
"Our mandate is to come out with a successful outcome, which ensures that we continue to benefit from AGOA and on other hand ensures that we are responsible as a government in terms of our agricultural industry and in terms of our human health," Davies told reporters in the capital Pretoria.
"We have not been told when the new deadline will be. The other side blows the whistle," Davies said.
He said that even if the United States proceeded to block South African produce from its market, Pretoria could still eventually benefit.
"We have been told if that happens, it can easily be reversed if we reach an agreement subsequently," Davies said.
South Africa has been concerned that an outbreak of avian flu in the United States which killed nearly 50 million birds could pose animal and human health risks to its economy.
Eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment is one of the criteria for membership of AGOA, which was renewed earlier last year 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.
Products affected would also include wine and citrus juice, U.S. data shows.