The Chinese government has agreed to more than halve tariffs on SA’s iconic rooibos, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic) said on Tuesday. This is offering the prospect of local producers ramping up exports to the world’s largest consumer of tea.
China previously had tariffs ranging from 15% to 30% on rooibos, which will now be reduced to 6%, the dtic said in a statement. In August, Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel had raised the issue of the tariffs during his meeting with his Chinese counterpart Weng Wentao, requesting the rooibos be reclassified and duties reduced.
“Our rooibos tea is refreshing, delicious and healthy,” Patel said in the statement. “This decision will enable more South African rooibos tea to be available to Chinese tea drinkers, creating more jobs in South Africa.”
According to the Rooibos Council of SA, the industry employed about 8 000 farm labourers in 2021 and produced 20 000 tonnes – equivalent to about 6 billion cups of tea. About 44% of this was exported, with Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands remaining the largest importers, closely followed by the UK and US. China didn’t appear in the top 10 destinations in 2021, but was the seventh-largest in 2019, according to the council.
Rooibos is derived from a plant endemic to a small area in the Cederberg mountain range of the Western Cape and requires specific climatic and geographical conditions to grow. In 2021, rooibos became the first African food to be added to the EU’s list of items with a so-called protected designation of origin (PDO). This strictly links products to their area of geographical origin, similar to France’s Champagne and Italy’s Prosciutto di Parma.
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China is also SA’s largest trading partner, with the country’s customs reporting two-way trade of more than R900 billion, said Patel. “We look forward to continuing our engagements with our Chinese counterparts as we seek to shift our exports from mainly minerals to a greater basket of value-added agricultural and industrial products,” he said.
“I wish to commend [Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development] Minister Thoko Didiza and her team for the close collaboration and hard work to get this decision finalised,” he said.