Saudi Arabia to start South African meat imports as ban ends

Saudi Arabia will start importing South African beef and lamb products as part of an investment push into the continent’s most developed economy.

The kingdom’s Food and Drug Administration lifted a 20-year prohibition on South African meat imports in August, and final approvals to start shipments of halaal cuts to the Middle Eastern nation are now in place, said Matthew Karan, part-owner of Karan Beef, one of South Africa’s biggest meat producers.


Read: Saudi Arabia seeks trade deals, mulls Brics offer to lift exports

“The plan is to start exports in coming weeks,” he told reporters in Johannesburg on Wednesday at a South Africa-Saudi Arabia Business Council briefing.

Saudi Arabia has a $2 billion (about R37.8 billion) meat market, and lifting the ban – which Riyadh imposed after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease two decades ago – is part of its efforts to forge stronger trade and investment ties as it seeks to diversify its $1.1 trillion economy away from oil.

Brics push

Saudi Arabia is among the countries invited to join China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa in the Brics bloc, the grouping’s first expansion since 2010. Its membership in the body, expected to have been formalised on January 1, is not yet a done deal, with Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al Ibrahim saying last week that the oil-rich country is still evaluating the invitation.

Pharmaceuticals and technology are other areas of potential cooperation between South Africa and Saudi Arabia, with Durban-based Aspen Pharmacare set to work with Saudi companies on endocrine and anaesthetic products, said Stavros Nicolaou, Aspen’s senior executive for strategic trade and co-chair of the two nations’ business council.

The push for exporting South African beef and lamb products into Saudi Arabia has opened up conversations for other agricultural products, including poultry, Nicolaou said.

Saudia Airlines, the Middle Eastern nation’s flag carrier, resumed direct flights to Johannesburg in December after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus.

The two nations are also in the process of making it easier for Saudis to obtain visas to South Africa, Nicolaou said. Processing a work visa in South Africa can take 48 weeks or more, compared with a maximum of 12 weeks in Kenya and eight in Nigeria, according to a report prepared for the presidency in Pretoria.

Read: SA takes a major step toward fixing work visa mess


The country that vies with the US to be the world’s biggest oil producer is ploughing millions of dollars into becoming a global supply-chain hub and creating new industries, from electric vehicles to pharmaceuticals, to meet local demand and for export to the Middle East and Africa.

Sports opportunities

Nicolau noted that Saudi Arabia is also looking at investment opportunities in sports, with falconry and equestrian disciplines among possibilities.

Backed by its Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia has spent millions on sports investments, leading a group that bought English Premier League football club Newcastle United FC and buying players such as Brazil’s Neymar, France’s Karim Benzema and Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Riyadh has also expressed interest in buying a multibillion-dollar stake in the Indian Premier League, international cricket’s most lucrative event.

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