South Africa’s wool industry has bled over R700 million since China’s sick sheep ban

Business Insider SA
A sheep being sheared. (Image: Getty)
A sheep being sheared. (Image: Getty)
  • China's now four-month ban on South Africa's wool has cost growers in the country R734 million.
  • The ban spells trouble for 40,000 workers, sheep shearers, and wool handlers who recently survived an extended drought.
  • About 40,000 wool producers market around six million kilograms of wool to China.
  • Industry organisations are calling on agricultural and trade ministries to negotiate with China to regain access to that market.
  • Up to 80% of South Africa's clip is destined for China, making the country its biggest customer.
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South Africa's wool sector has lost as much as R734 million since its biggest customer, China, instituted an import ban on cloven-hoofed animals and related products, following the country's foot and mouth disease outbreaks.

The now four-month ban, instated on 1 April 2022, coincides with the first wool auction for the industry's 2022/2023 season, meant to take place on 17 August.

The National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) has said that the ban will have dire consequences for South Africa's wool industry, which produces clip worth R5 billion annually. China is by far South Africa's biggest wool trade partner, with between 70% to 80% of the country's clip destined for the country.

No outbreaks have been reported in any recognised wool-producing area in South Africa, NWGA said.

"Though wool sheep are, like all cloven-hoofed animals, susceptible to be infected by FMD, no outbreaks have been recorded in recognised wool producing areas nor have any small stock been diagnosed with FMD," it said in a joint statement with Agri SA.

The association said the ban is both unjustifiable and unwarranted because South Africa's protocols for regulating wool storage after shearing align with the terrestrial code of the World Organisation of Animal Health. The code, negotiated with Chinese authorities in 2019 to limit disruptions, specifies time frames and minimum temperatures at which wool should be stored.

The industry is calling for the intervention of the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, and the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, to help it regain access to the Chinese market with the first wool auction date fast approaching.

The ban comes just as the industry was recovering from an extended period of drought and a prolonged ban spells trouble for many commercial wool producers who may be unable to survive the ripple effects.

Not only is the ban putting a dent in the industry's revenues, but it will also devastate the sector's small scale producers and 35,000 workers and 4,500 seasonal sheep shearers and wool handlers.

"We are concerned about the emerging and communal wool producing sector in particular, as most of their clip is destined for export to China. More than 40,000 small-scale producers market close to six million kg of wool annually valued at an estimated R300 million," Christo van der Rheede, Executive Director of Agri SA, and Leon de Beer, CEO of NWGA said.

"These producers and surrounding communities will fall back into poverty should the Chinese market remain closed for wool from South Africa," they said.

"Agri SA and NWGA can only trust that the South African authorities will make every effort to address this issue with the Chinese authorities as a matter of urgency. South African wool is safe for export, and we must resolve this matter quickly for the sake of the livelihoods on the line," the organisations said.

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