AUSTRALIA's $30 million a year mutton export market to South Africa could be under threat if a new flat rate tariff was imposed on Australian sheepmeat.
The South African Board of Tariffs and Trade has been considering the new tariff which would be the greater of either the current 40pc ad valorem tariff or a new two rand a kilogram fixed rate.
"The proposed two rand a kilogram fixed rate would equate to an ad valorem tariff of around 80pc, doubling the impost on Australian sheepmeat and as good as destroying our trade to South Africa," Sheepmeat Council of Australia president Bill Whitehead said.
"The Australian sheepmeat industry supplies competitively priced mutton for the low-income communities of South Africa and restricting our access would restrict the access of these communities to this important protein source," he said.
SCA executive director Scott Hansen said that because the Australian sheepmeat products went to South Africa's low-income communities the market was more price sensitive, with exports already down due to higher sheep prices in Australia.
He said there was still no confirmation from the Federal Government or from the South African Government that the tariff proposal had been supported or was to be introduced.
"At the moment we hope it is nothing more than industry rumour," he said.
However, Fletcher International principal Roger Fletcher believed the new tariff would be imposed and said it was up to importers and exporters work towards reducing the tariffs to reasonable levels.
He said his company's exports to South Africa had dropped by 90pc since last year but the company had found other livestock markets to take its place.
If the new tariff was introduced SCA would ask the Federal Government to use International Trade Rules to remove or reduce the tariff.
In the meantime industry bodies would be working to put alternative proposals to the South African board.
Mr Whitehead said South Africa was one of the largest export markets for Australian mutton, taking around 23,000 tonnes in 2001 or 13pc of mutton exports.
"This is not a market we can be shut out of because of punitive tariffs," he said.