South Africa's Minister of Trade and Industry and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have met with the ambassador of the European Union (EU), Dr Marcus Cornaro, to discuss bilateral trade relations, including the crisis faced by the domestic poultry industry in the face of cheap imports.

The meeting took place in the context of the entry into force of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) group of countries in October 2016.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana agreed that the EPA marked a strengthening of investment relations between South Africa and the EU and noted that the relevance of the EPA had been emphasised by President Jacob Zuma in his 2017 State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week.

The Ministers and the EU ambassador discussed the crisis in the domestic poultry industry with some poultry producers announcing major retrenchment plans amid concerns over rising imports of poultry products from other countries.

The Ministers emphasised the importance of the poultry sector to rural development and the revitalisation of the agriculture and agro-processing value chain. The Ministers highlighted the measures implemented by government to date, which aim to address the challenges facing the industry in totality, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) said in a statement here Monday.

The meeting recognized the crisis in the poultry industry as being complex and thus offered a platform to exchange views on the challenges faced by the industry, which includes structural and competitiveness issues, as well as increased imports.

Cornaro said the EU is of the view that the crisis is caused more by the structural challenges affecting the poultry sector rather than imports from the EU. He also expressed the EU's support for the restructuring of the industry and said exports of South African poultry to the EU are an opportunity which should be pursued.

Both parties expressed goodwill to help facilitate market access and to enhance their co-operation on sanitary and phytosanitary issues (SPS) affecting South African exports to the EU.

The EU and South Africa are further committed to engage in outreach activities, sectoral analyses, tackling trade barriers and the smoothening trade flows to help business take full advantage of the Economic Partnership Agreement.

Both parties acknowledged that 2016 was a very good year, with bilateral volumes of exports increasing on both sides. This is expected to improve this year, in view of the number of new opportunities created by the EPA.