China’s lift on South African wool imports prompts increased Australian protocols

Bob Garnant and Adam PoulsenCountryman
South Africa's wool industry is back on it's feet after a five-month ban on imports to China was lifted due to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.
Camera IconSouth Africa's wool industry is back on it's feet after a five-month ban on imports to China was lifted due to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

China’s ban on South African wool imports has been lifted after five-months, prompting the Australian industry to ramp up its own protocols against foot-and-mouth disease.

The five-month ban was implemented in April after FMD was detected in KwaZulu-Natal province in May 2021, followed by small-scale outbreaks in March this year in the provinces of Limpopo and North West.

China lifted the ban on August 23, with South Africa’s peak industry body Cape Wools SA confirming the news in a statement that same day.

“It is with huge relief we can inform you that China’s ban on the import of greasy wool from the Republic of South Africa has been lifted with immediate effect,” a Cape Wools SA spokesman said.

“This has been verbally conveyed to us through the (South African) Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, and the announcement has been posted on the official General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China website.

“We are equally relieved that it has been lifted without the imposition of any additional conditions.

“This means the health certificate we have been using since 2019 is unchanged.”

The 2019 certificate was approved after another FMD outbreak in South Africa earlier that same year, which led to an immediate Chinese ban on wool imports.

The ban was lifted later that year after South Africa adopted a temperature treatment, storage and traceability program.

The program involved storing wool bales at 18°C for four weeks, or at 37°C for eight days, as a set time heat treatment protocol to kill the FMD virus.

Given the apparent effectiveness of the program — and South Africa’s full compliance with World Organisation For Animal Health FMD virus inactivation protocols for wool — Cape Wools said the April ban was an “unexpected development”.

“We are very grateful to be able to put this behind us and look forward to business as usual,” the spokesman said.

Australian wool industry leaders have been closely monitoring the South African situation, hoping to better understand the impact an outbreak of FMD — which is currently running rampant across Indonesia — could potentially have at home.

Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors executive director Peter Morgan said it was important to “carefully examine” the South African ban.

“We are really pleased that this impasse has been worked out for the good of the greater wool industry,” he said.

“FMD is considered one of the nastiest (diseases) that Australia’s domestic livestock industry potentially faces.”

Dr Morgan said Australia had conducted scientific research on ways to mitigate the impact of the disease.

“The wool industry will start to set up its own protocols, but on a much greater scale to South Africa,” he said.

“It will be a massive undertaking and will involve heat treatment and storage at a big cost to the industry.”

China is the world’s biggest importer of wool, purchasing about 80 per cent of both Australian and South African wool exports each year.

South African peak farm bodies Agri SA and the National Wool Growers’ Association have claimed the ban was unwarranted and threatened the livelihoods of 35,000 wool industry workers, as well as 4500 seasonal shearers and wool handlers.

When Countryman went to print on Tuesday afternoon, South African media were reporting a total of 116 confirmed FMD cases across six of South Africa’s nine provinces.

By comparison, Indonesia has reported more than 450,000 FMD cases across 23 provinces since the disease was first detected in East Java in early May.

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