New export markets create significant red meat opportunities

21 August 2023

By: Gerrit Bezuidenhout 

The path to Saudi Arabia and China is open for South African red meat exports after Riyadh lifted a ban on the import of South African red meat after 21 years and Beijing also gave the green light. 

Dewald Olivier, executive director of Red Meat Industry Services (RMIS), says further discussions are being held to explore more markets. 

“The advantage that Saudi Arabia and China hold for the local red meat industry is incredible,” he says. 

“Saudi Arabia takes the high-value cuts while China buys forequarters, which means the local industry can export the entire carcass. So, we are in an extremely favourable position regarding these markets.” 

In a statement, the government says the market in Saudi Arabia is estimated at more than $5-billion and there are plans to send it up to 1,000 tons of red meat annually.

Saudi Arabia’s food and medicine authority approved the import of South African red meat after an inspection visit to the country in June. 

Collaboration is the key to success 

Olivier believes the result is proof of what can happen when the private sector and the government collaborate. “It was a combined effort to open markets,” he says.

“The industry, along with the government, played a key role in getting the Saudi delegation here and holding discussions. Here, the industry, through RMIS, demonstrated what can happen when we all move in the same direction.” 

He says other markets want South African red meat. “We are negotiating with Malaysia and we are in talks with Hong Kong, which is interested in all the different red meat products, including sheep and goat meat. 

“South Africa is on the threshold of the potential R12-billion that the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy has shown can be added to the industry.” 

Olivier says the role played by RMIS cannot be overlooked. “For the first time, stakeholders in the red meat industry are united, and it’s already bearing fruit. RMIS has only been in existence for seven months and we already have two new export markets opening their doors. Suddenly, the industry is working together, and it’s no longer a scattergun approach.” 

Olivier acknowledges Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development & Land Reform, who saw the urgency of opening export markets. 

“We are beginning to see an alternative solution for the situation in South Africa. This was evident with foot-and-mouth disease, where not only a setback occurred but alternative solutions began to be sought. South Africa has unique problems, which means we must find unique solutions.”

Timing is the key

The timing for commencing red meat exports will be crucial, says Olivier.

“Just because the market is opening today doesn’t mean we’ll start exporting tomorrow. The industry will first need to gather meat and position it correctly so that we can reap the full benefits,” he says.

“It could take about four months before we can actually begin exporting, and then it’s December, which is a strong time for the local red meat industry. Therefore, we might only consider January or February, which are usually quieter times for the red meat industry in terms of prices. What this means is that the exports will bring stability to our own markets.”

Beware of politics

He cautioned that stakeholders should not take their eyes off the ball when a resurgence for the local red meat industry is on the horizon.

“The important thing is not to get involved in a price-related dispute. Our ultimate goal is to sell meat and animals; everything else is politics, and RMIS isn’t interested in that. We must be cautious that politics doesn’t prevent us from further growth. This is just the beginning, and we mustn’t regress into politics.”

A growth opportunity for everyone

Olivier says export markets create an opportunity for everyone. “RMIS has stated that we have a strategy where we want to produce another 250,000 weaned calves and that the emerging sector will play a significant role in it. 

“We must also remember that when we talk about an emerging or new entrant, we’re not only talking about black farmers, as there are farmers from all groups within South Africa.

“This is why we talk about inclusive growth, so that it’s an opportunity for everyone. It’s not about colour, because the more it’s about colour, the more we return to politics. The minister understands this as well, and that’s why we’d like there to be benefits for everyone in this, but there are standards that must be met.

“This is where RMIS wants to play a key role: to assist new entrants from all backgrounds so that they can also participate in the export market. In doing so, we create an advantage for everyone, from the new entrant all the way to the commercial farmer.”

share this