SA wine gets green light to export during lockdown


South Africa's wine industry has been given permission to export its products during the lockdown period. 

This follows a period of "intensive lobbying" by a task team of exporters, industry members said on Wednesday.

Industry bodies told Fin24 that the change in regulations, signed off by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and published in the Government Gazette on 7 April, had been met with considerable relief. 

The new regulations stipulate that wine may be exported and agricultural cargo can be moved to sea ports and international airports for export. It follows an earlier concession for the wine industry to complete harvesting and processing activities to prevent wastage during the 21-day lockdown. 

"During the lockdown period, the transportation of the wines and any other fresh produce products at the sea ports and international Airports Designated as Port of Entry for export is allowed," the notice reads. 

Maryna Calow, communications manager of Wines of South Africa, told Fin24 that the latest Government Gazette highlights that the transport of finished wine for the purpose of exports may be continued. 

"This does, however, still need to be unpacked and more information in this regard will be shared with our producers as soon as possible. It does need to be stated that there are a number of delicate points in this regard, such as that the manufacturing process does not fall within this exemption," she explains.

"The transport of wine is still not seen as 'essential'. This is merely an exception that has been made by government and one which we as an industry are very thankful for." 

The wine harvest started in January and the local industry got ready to go and showcase what it has to offer at the largest wine show in the world - ProWein in Germany in March. The event was, however, cancelled due the spreading of the coronavirus pandemic.

Grape and wine production is one of the largest export-orientated agricultural value-chains, with a contribution of R49 billion to GDP. But Police Minister Bheki Cele initially announced that during the 21-day lockdown there would be no buying or selling of alcohol, nor the transport of liquor "between two points".

Industry representatives have argued that the importance of being allowed to export lies not only in the foreign exchange it earns for the country, but that local producers are trying to make up for a decline in wine exports of about 30% in 2019.

Wine producers body Vinpro said the industry exporters task team had lobbied intensively with government over the past week. It expressed gratitude for the concession. 

"The South African wine industry is truly grateful to government and all the respective role-players for showing an understanding for the industry's challenges through this concession. Nearly half of South Africa's wine production is exported and a restriction on exports would have a severe effect on wine-related businesses, but most importantly the livelihood of close to 300 000 people employed by the wine industry value-chain," Vinpro said in a statement. 

"We need to reiterate that with this concession comes a great responsibility to keep our employees safe during this time," Vinpro added. 

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