Confusion this week over the exact details of agricultural export permits for South Africa’s farming sector – prompting claims that criticism of the regulations was sensational, false, misleading and irresponsible – obscures the much more fundamental risk to South Africa’s economic interests: race-based policy.

So says the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

It points out in a statement that it ‘has long argued that the most irresponsible posture to adopt on any and all race-based policy introduced since 1994 is one of acquiescence and appeasement, precisely because, first, racial policy is antithetical to the country’s constitutional commitment to non-racialism, second, it counts as an impediment to investment and economic growth, and, third, it has proved demonstrably ineffective either in empowering or in improving the lives of the poor, whose numbers have only grown in conditions of mounting economic distress’.

In this setting, the IRR says, ‘there is nothing benign about flawed policy of this nature’.

The fuss arose over weekend news reports, details of which gained international attention in a report by the respected Bloomberg news agency, whose story ran under the headline “South Africa’s ‘Too White’ Farms May Lose EU, UK Access”.

(This material was reflected in the Daily Friend piece, Farms that are ‘too white’ won’t be allowed to export to the UK and the EU.)

These news reports referred to regulations published in the Government Gazette.

The regulations, it turns out, are not new, and are evidently of little concern to – it would seem – the bulk of organised agriculture.

They relate to trade arrangements, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), with the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK).

According to a subsequent news report, the EAP with the EU was signed in 2016 alongside other South African Development Community (SADC) countries, while the UK EAP was signed by the South African Customs Union (SACU) members (Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa) subsequent to Brexit. The EAP provides preferential and duty-free access to the UK and EU for a quota of SA agricultural products.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development commented: “These requirements are not new, and there is no threshold or level that an applicant must reach to be awarded a permit. The BBBEE status of the applicant is but one factor that must be considered in conjunction with all other factors.”

The IRR says: ‘It is apparent that the BEE requirements that have to be considered when granting an export licence in terms of this agreement are the only requirements that have no bearing on agriculture at all.

‘In other words, they are part of the social engineering that the ANC government has imposed on commercial sectors without delivering any significant benefit to South African society, least of all the ability of the economy to operate competitively.

‘Irrespective of whether these regulations are new or not, the IRR remains implacably opposed to race-based measures on the grounds that they are immoral, discriminatory and of scant benefit for the people of this country.’

The IRR concludes: ‘Racial criteria should be entirely eliminated from these and all other regulations. They stand in the way of the economic growth without which South Africa’s society cannot advance and the plight of the poor cannot sustainably be alleviated.’

[Image: vleyva from Pixabay]