SOUTH AFRICA – After a four-year decline, poultry imports into South Africa have rebounded, with imports for the first 11 months of 2023 surpassing the total for the entire year of 2022.

This marked the first time since 2018 that chicken imports have comfortably exceeded the previous year’s levels.

Poultry imports, predominantly chicken, peaked at 566,000 tonnes in 2018 and steadily decreased to 373,000 tonnes in the previous year.

Several factors contributed to this decline, including bird flu outbreaks in Europe, the United States, and Argentina, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rand depreciation, and higher import tariffs.

The recent recovery in imports has occurred despite ongoing bird flu outbreaks in Europe and the US. Currently, only three European Union countries can export to South Africa, and 23 US states are experiencing bird flu bans.

Notably, the increase in imports was driven by specific categories, such as mechanically deboned meat (MDM) and offal. MDM, a paste used in processed foods, constituted 62.6% of chicken imports in November, while offal, including chicken heads, feet, and livers, made up 18.5%.

Both categories have been rising yearly and are at their highest levels since 2020. Brazil is the primary source for both MDM and offal, supplying 80% of South Africa’s chicken imports.

Despite bird flu issues, the US remains a significant source of bone-in chicken portions, such as leg quarters, thighs, and drumsticks.

Brazil is the dominant supplier overall, accounting for 80% of South Africa’s chicken imports, while the EU has gradually recovered to a 7% share.

While the increase in MDM and offal imports is noteworthy, there is positive news for South African chicken producers.

Imports of bone-in chicken are steadily declining, constituting 14.5% of chicken imports, with the lowest total expected in 2023 since 2020. Despite the decline in volume, bone-in chicken imports in 2023 still had a landed price of R1.17 billion.

The shifting patterns in the import market raise questions about future trends and whether there is a looming increase in dumped bone-in imports.

These developments revealed the complexities and challenges faced by South African poultry producers in a dynamic and competitive global market.

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