South Africa eases wine export restrictions caused by coronavirus lockdown

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CAPE TOWN, April 7 (Reuters) – South Africa’s wine industry will be allowed to export its products again after the government bowed to heavy lobbying and agreed to relax lockdown rules imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on March 15, ushering in regulations that effectively shut down South African ports and halted exports from March 27.

South Africa has so far reported 1,749 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the continent’s highest number, and 13 deaths.

The government announced a relaxation of the lockdown regulations in its official gazette on Tuesday in a move welcomed by the wine industry body Vinpro.

“The South African wine industry is truly grateful to government… for showing an understanding for the industry’s challenges through this concession,” said Vinpro, which represents some 2,500 wine producers and industry stakeholders.

The industry, which exports nearly half of its production and employs around 300,000 across the value-chain, had won an earlier concession when it was allowed to complete harvesting and processing to prevent wastage during the 21-day lockdown.

Workers in the wine industry have now been allowed to return to work, provided they respect rules on travel limitations, social distancing and the use of sanitisers.

Export of fresh produce, mainly fruit, will also resume following the relaxation of the lockdown rules.

Last week the industry’s exporter task team submitted plans to the government urging a lifting of the effective export ban at least by April 17 when the current lockdown was initially slated to end.

Vinpro had said that if the ban remained in place by April 17, it could entail, conservatively, a loss of direct export revenue amounting to more than 650 million rand ($36 million), free-on-board value.

“But the damage to our reputation for consistent supply… will be astronomical and will be exponentially more than this figure,” Vinpro told Reuters last week before the lifting of the restrictions.

“On the local market the three-week ban equates to a loss of 800 million rand on wholesaler level,” it said.

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