Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) discussed in a radio interview this week the U.S. economic relationship with Africa saying that South Africa’s refusal to drop its antidumping duties that prevent American poultry from having fair access to the South African market may very well threaten the renewal of a major trade agreement between the two nations, called the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

For much of the last decade, South Africa has placed an “antidumping duty” on all American poultry items, essentially shutting out American exports.  In doing so, Coons said that the United States has missed out on approximately 100,000 metric tons of chicken exports to South Africa.  South Africa initiated the tariff to combat what they referred to as “illegally low” prices of American chicken.

Chicken Caucus members Senators Coons and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are now threatening South Africa’s continued inclusion in AGOA.  “I’m not looking to hurt South Africa,” Coons said.  “I just want to make sure that we’ve got fair trade.”  Over the past 4 years, Coons has served as the chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations.

“What South Africa has done for years in this area lacks any merit.  They are using the same justification that China has used to ban American poultry imports.  They claim our poultry is being sold below market value.  Not only is this claim false, the World Trade Organization recently deemed China’s nearly identical ban to be illegal,”  Coons said during a recent speech on the Senate Floor

AGOA, a trade deal that provides duty-free treatment for some products from sub-Saharan Africa to be exported to the United States, was first passed in 2000 under President Clinton to help bring that region into the international economy.  The trade deal is scheduled to expire this year if not extended.  The Obama administration would like to see the agreement renewed sooner rather than later, but officials concede that the chicken issue is complicating the process.  If AGOA is not renewed, South Africa’s economy would loose approximately $2.5 billion, according to Senator Coons.

“We won’t allow the trade deal that gives South Africa unlimited access to American markets to be renewed,” Senator Coons said, “unless they open up their markets to our chicken exports.”  AGOA is set to expire this fall and Senator Coons said that congressional action on a new agreement could be forming within the next few months.  Senator Coons said he is optimistic that South Africa will remove the tariff.  “The South Africans have a lot more to lose than we do,” he said.