Joint Publications

Trade and investment in fish and fish products between South Africa and the rest of SADC: Implications for food and nutrition security

Published 10 October 2017, by Hara et al

Publication: PLAAS Working Paper 47

This paper looks at the dynamics of intra-regional trade and investment in fish and fish products between South Africa and the rest of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region, and the implications of this trade for food and nutrition security. It is based on key informant interviews with people in the food industry in South Africa and Africa regional economic bodies. Imports and exports of fish in South Africa are driven by import substitution, shortfalls in local production, and meeting growing local and regional demand.

Most South African fish and food processors prefer to export, rather than establish plants in other African countries, mainly due to factors of economic efficiency and the challenges of doing business in these countries. Currently, however, increasing volumes of fish are being imported into South Africa to meet demand from the African migrant community.

While self-sufficiency and food sovereignty are acknowledged priorities for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), imports to meet local shortfalls and specific demand ought to be acceptable options for ensuring fish food availability and affordability. The reduction or removal of tariffs, through regional free trade agreements, promotes increased intra-regional trade. Overall, imports and exports provide for demand-led exchange of fish between SADC states, which promotes increased availability and affordability of fish; thereby contributing towards food and nutrition security.

However, despite regional free trade agreements that have stipulated the removal of both technical and non-technical barriers, most small-scale traders still experience problems in conducting cross-border trade. The majority of people in both South Africa and the SADC still rely heavily on the informal sector for conduct business and buying food provisions. This includes cross-border fish trade, which is dominated by small scale-traders, the majority of whom are women.

The informal sector ensures that food reaches most people in an acceptable state, form and price. In order to promote and facilitate improved and efficient fish trade delivery systems and positive benefits for food security and livelihoods, governance of cross-border trade ought to be based on flexible regulations and improved implementation of these.

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