RSA & Cuba Agreement on Animal and Plant Health; Brazil Study Tour Report

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

20 February 2024
Chairperson: Nkosi M Mandela (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


Tabled Committee Reports

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) briefed the Committee on the bilateral agreement between South Africa and Cuba for joint research and development in animal and plant health. The agreement aims to positively impact South Africa's Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan but is yet to be ratified by South Africa.

Committee members raised concerns on the delay in South Africa’s ratification of the agreement; the financial implications of the agreement; why an explanatory memorandum, legal opinions and the financial implications of the bilateral agreement were not provided; the safeguarding of intellectual property rights in such agreements and the poor state of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP).

The Committee Report on Brazil Study Tour was approved.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson noted apologies from the two Deputy Ministers. The new Committee member, Ms M Letlape (EFF), was welcomed.

In the aftermath of the Al Kuwait live export vessel saga, the Chairperson applauded the swift action of the Sea Border South African Police Service (SAPS), Cape of Good Hope and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). He trusts that the authorities will take necessary measures and interventions to ensure the health and safety of all animals on boats and inside vessels. Disturbing images of 19 000 cattle from Brazil, destined for the Middle East docked in Cape Town harbour have circulated on social media platforms. These images are deeply troubling and we hope it will receive the necessary attention.

The Chairperson said it is important to note that while there has been swift condemnation of the perceived animal cruelty and inadequate conditions of Al Kuwait livestock, the same level of concern and empathy seems to be lacking when it comes to the flight of the Palestinian people. They have been enduring inhumane conditions, confined for not just months, but for an alarming 17 years, and currently detained for nearly 140 days. This situation extends far beyond the scope of Al Kuwait is livestock, especially when we consider that this has been an ongoing issue for the past 75 years, predating the current crisis in Gaza. Over 531 Palestinian villages have been tragically massacred and destroyed

For today's presentations, it is crucial to consider the broader context. Without delving into detail, it is noteworthy that Cuba, in our shared fight for freedom, sacrificed no fewer than 3,500 lives in what many refer to as the Cuito Cuanavale battle. This was a triumph over the brutal apartheid regime in South Africa. However, it is painful that two years have passed since Cuba ratified the agreement on plant and animal health. Perhaps DALRRD could shed some light on the reasons for this delay, especially given the nature of the strong relationship between our two sister countries.

The presentation highlights the benefits of the agreement for South Africa. It might be worthwhile for us to also explore the reciprocal benefits of our relationship with Cuba. He believed that Cuba is globally recognized as a leader in biopharmaceuticals with no fewer than 600 World Health Organisation (WHO) registered patents through its state-owned company Lapierre. Cuba is also a leading provider in the treatment of waterborne disease, and its efforts in malaria treatment have already proven to be lifesaving, benefiting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives right here on the African continent.

He said Members also welcomed the report of our study trip to Brazil. Brazil and South Africa are both members of BRICS, a crucial and significant grouping of major emerging economies in the world. This alliance represents 41% of the global population, holding a substantial 24% of the world GDP and contributing to 16% of global trade.

The eThekwini Declaration of 27 March 2013, during the 5th BRICS summit, titled "BRICS and Africa Partnership for Development Integration and Industrialization," outlines a commitment to exploring new models for more equitable development and inclusive global growth. This commitment emphasizes leveraging our respective economic strengths. Building on this, during our study trip, we witnessed the history, struggles, and reforms in Brazil, particularly in our interactions with the landless people.

This study provides valuable insights into agrarian transformation, offering important lessons for South Africa. Perhaps DALRRD at a future date could consider Brazil's significant role it has played over four decades in developing biofuels. Combining this with our own experiences holds immense potential for job creation, and poverty alleviation and contributes to making the agricultural sector a net contributor to achieving our National Development Plan (NDP) objectives.

Cuba-RSA Agreement on cooperation in matters of animal and plant health
Mr Mooketsa Ramasodi, DALRRD Director-General, introduced Ms Komape who made the presentation.

Ms Kwena Komape, DALRRD Deputy Director-General: Economic Development, Trade and Marketing noted that the agreement was signed by the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development, Ms Thoko Didiza. She provided an examination of the background, the areas of cooperation, progress to date, outstanding actions and anticipated impact for South Africa.

The Minister and the Ambassador of Cuba to South Africa, H.E. Enrique Orta González signed the agreement in July 2022. The objective of the Agreement is to coordinate, promote, and develop cooperation programmes between South Africa and Cuba.The agreed-upon programmes will advance their bilateral relations in matters of animal and plant health.

The Agreement identifies the following areas of cooperation:

- Information on animal diseases and plant pests; Regulations on diseases originating based on pests requiring quarantines and pests that are controlled without the necessity of quarantine, from the territory of one Party to the territory of the other Party.

- The exchange, whenever possible, of information about measures for the control and prevention of pests and diseases; and providing mutual assistance for training programmes and in the research of animal and plant health problems.

In November 2023 the Minister requested the Speaker of the National Assembly and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces to table the agreement for ratification. DALRRD received a communication from Cuba confirming its ratification of the agreement.

Once SA ratifies the agreement the following actions will take place: Establishment of the Joint Working Committee (JWC) Action Plan will be drafted and identify the possible project for implementation. Possible visits by both sides to have an overview of each other’s agricultural sectors.

The anticipated impact to South Africa is it will strengthen bilateral relations with Cuba and contribute to the new market for South African agricultural products. It will afford the county an opportunity to achieve the objective of the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan which focuses on strategic value chain development and expanded contribution to the economy.

Ratification of the agreement by the country will unlock the processes that will allow implementation to proceed.

Dr M Tlhape (ANC) welcomed the presentation. The Committee is going to address the Plant Health (Phytosanitary) Bill and this presentation could not have come at a better time. It underscores why South Africa has its systems in order.

However, this is not the first time DALRRD has brought international agreements for approval. My concern is that there is no explanatory memorandum submitted to the committee. It is crucial to have this memorandum for the committee to make informed decisions before approving or rejecting the agreement. That is his only concern.

Ms B Tshwete (ANC) asked for the legal opinion on the agreement. She expressed concern about the absence of information on the legal aspects in the presentation. The reason it took so long to present this to Parliament is because many legal steps must be followed and regarded. She requested the legal opinion so that the Committee has an understanding and know where it stands with this agreement. She also asked about the financial costs associated with the agreement. There were potential training and exchange visits between the two countries and wanted the financial implications of these aspects.

Mr S Matiase (EFF) asked why it was presented to the Committee when substantial work had not been completed. Before getting into the specifics of the incomplete work, he referred to Ms Komape's explanation that delays were due to a lack of clarity on procedures and processes to be followed. Why did DALRRD present when it was not adequately prepared as this not only reflects the Department's incompetence but also transfers that incompetence to the Committee. Considering the lack of work done, the Committee could exercise its oversight role and decline to discuss the matter. He drew upon the importance of efficiency, citing the Cuban efficiency in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

Mr Matiase suggested that the agreement should have been ratified long ago, guiding the relationship with the Cuban Republic. He expressed concern that the incompetency of DALRRD should not be transferred to the committee but to the Chairperson who decides what comes before the committee and urged the Chairperson to carefully consider items brought before the committee and suggesting that an item like this agreement should not have been presented without adequate preparation.

Ms Tshwete objected to Mr Matiase's suggestion that the Chairperson was incompetent.  The committee members receive the draft programme, all subject to confirmation, to review and agree upon. This issue is not a matter of the Chairperson's competence. If there is any perceived incompetence, it should be collectively addressed by the Committee, although she did not believe that is the case here.

The Chairperson said indeed the Committee should consider that the programme is not the programme of the Chairperson, it belongs to the entire collective and this is why through the secretary it is made available to all of us so that we can effectively make changes where we feel matters are not ready to be brought before the Committee. If  a member wants to expose their incompetence then it is ok. We can allow them to label themselves as such and we move on with the work before us.

Mr N Capa (ANC) said despite all that can be recognized as weaknesses, we appreciate the essence of the agreement between South Africa and Cuba. Anything that is recognized as a deficiency can be improved. We should appreciate and move forward. Mr Matiase's comments implying the Chairperson's incompetence brings discomfort. While he was not explicitly requesting a withdrawal, he wanted to officially state that such implications are not acceptable. Having the implication of incompetence on the Chairperson, who is part of the collective, is not acceptable.

The Chairperson said he had been raised with the belief that we should not be deterred by name-calling, as often when pointing fingers elsewhere, three fingers point back to oneself. If there is any incompetence to be exposed, perhaps the Member inadvertently refers to themselves, especially when scrutinizing the Committee programme for work that has not been completed. However, let us avoid delving into that and continue with the matters brought before the Committee.

Ms T Breedt (FF+) agreed with the concerns about missing information provided by DALRRD. The missing explanatory memorandum, legal opinion, cabinet resolution and DALRRD's recommendation to Parliament. She requested these documents so that  informed decisions can be made.

Ms Breedt about the implications for South Africa, not just financially, but also in terms of self-executing provisions becoming law and the existence of current legislation to support the agreement. Ms Tshwete had highlighted financial implications, but she sought a broader understanding.

Ms Breedt inquired about the joint working group and action plan, seeking clarity on when these plans would be concretized and put into action. She pointed to Article 7 on intellectual property rights, asking which current legislation could protect South Africa's intellectual property rights and address potential future trespasses. Highlighting the challenges faced by Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) in South Africa with intellectual property, she emphasized the importance of discussing and addressing these issues. Ms Breedt raised these questions for DALRRD's consideration.

Ms M Letlape (EFF) stated that the presentation must carry sufficient weight for the Committee to appreciate the work and put a stamp on it to say we are ready for this agreement. It is valid to inquire about the financial implications and details of the memorandum. These questions need to be addressed to ensure a comprehensive understanding.

As part of the Committee's oversight role, we must prioritize obtaining answers to these questions. Approving the signing of an agreement without a clear understanding of potential obstacles or underlying issues would not be in the best interest of the Committee or the agreement between South Africa and Cuba. She suggested that DALRRD provides the necessary information and documents.

Dr Tlhape pointed to the importance of the memorandum of agreement, and the Committee needs to grasp its contents and implications. This will enable the Committee to confidently fulfil its oversight role and ensure that South Africa enters the agreement with a clear understanding.

The Chairperson said that the Speaker referred this matter to the Committee for consideration, and we are tasked with reporting back to the National Assembly. The information has been provided to all members, not exclusively to the Chairperson. This marks our first briefing from DALRRD on this agreement, and he wanted to clarify the process in which the matter was brought to the Committee.

Mr N Masipa (DA) said he feels like Cuba is treated like another province of South Africa. We must comply with the necessary processes to avoid legal complications. With that said, we are facing serious issues related to animal diseases. He did not believe that South Africa lacks experts capable of providing solutions; rather, it is a matter of how we utilize these experts.

The challenge we have been highlighting is the appointment of individuals unfit for their roles, this is particularly evident with cadre deployment. This has resulted in numerous problems, with every State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) being destroyed. Despite annual budget allocations to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), progress is slow. The veterinary strategy is slowly getting us nowhere in terms producing results. My concern is that our Committee might be contributing to the industry's failure due to insufficient engagement with stakeholders, especially on OBP. It pains that, even to this day, we are dealing with a problem we encountered at the beginning of the Sixth Term. The question is what legacy are we leaving? Passing this agreement off as a solution to our problems seems like a joke. Notably, AfriForum had to resort to legal action to stop the government from paying Cuba R50 million, which is unacceptable.

Considering the agreements before us, he was concerned about what South Africa stands to gain. Reflecting on past challenges, such as COVID-19 where we had to support Cuba but we could not support ourselves, raises questions about the terms of the agreement. He hopes these challenges are not part of what we need to address. He would like to emphasize that our Committee has, in his opinion, failed the industry, particularly the livestock sector. We have not effectively engaged experts in this space, especially from the private sector. He had submitted a petition with approximately 12 000 signatures, indicating the private sector's willingness to contribute and help. However, there has not been much interest  from the Committee to address this and ensure private sector participation.

Dr Tlhape said she did not know where we lost the plot at this Committee meeting. She kindly requested the Chair and Committee members to concentrate on the current issue. Bringing additional concerns into this agreement will not aid in addressing the primary matter. She preferred not to respond to other Members, recognizing their right to express their opinions. As a Committee, we have visited OBP, and they have appeared before us when necessary. It is essential for us to reflect on our actions – did we follow up after our oversight? Did we revisit those issues when OBP presented before us? Let us refrain from complicating matters with peripheral interests. Mr Masipa rightly advocates for involving the private sector in this matter. DALRRD has responded, and we have debated this. Let us focus on the agreement with Cuba, as Mr Masipa suggests – what benefits do we stand to gain?

Dr Tlhape said that the Committee's objective is to empower ourselves and Parliament to make informed decisions on this matter. If there is additional information required, let us communicate that to DALRRD for further clarification. She urged the Chairperson to guide the Committee in dealing with other matters when the draft programme is received, ensuring that pertinent topics are scheduled for discussion. Let us avoid clouding the current matter and concentrate on understanding where we stand with this agreement.

The Chairperson thanked Committee members for their input and he would like to extend a welcome to the Director General, Ms Kwena Komape and DALRRD officials. He was confident in their capabilities to address the questions and arguments raised by Members.

He then urged Members to seek clarification from DALRRD, considering that South Africa, particularly in the agricultural sector, has numerous existing bilateral agreements that did not require parliamentary approval. Therefore, he would like the Director General and department officials to explain why this specific agreement requires ratification. This will ensure we all understand why the Speaker referred this matter to the Committee.

DALRRD response
Mr Ramasodi requested Ms Komape address the issues and he will go over anything that not covered. He believed that there is a logical explanation for the raised concerns.

Ms Komape replied that they will investigate and address the concern  about the absence of an explanatory memorandum.

On the legal opinion, just to clarify the agreement has been reviewed and cleared legally. If documentation is required, it will be shared with the Members.

On the financial implications, before addressing that, she would like to emphasize that this is a technical agreement. Building on the Chairperson's point about technical agreements with various countries that have not been brought to this Committee, it is important to note that this agreement has a clause indicating that it should be ratified, hence its presentation to this Committee.

As it is a technical agreement, once both parties sign it, a technical group or committee will be formed. This committee will develop a programme of action outlining the areas to be addressed. There could be potential visits by representatives from both countries. It is important to understand that each party will be responsible for its costs. For example, if the technical committee from South Africa visits Cuba, they will cover their expenses, and the same applies to Cuba. Since the technical committee has not been established to decide on the programme of action and associated costs, it becomes challenging for DALRRD to estimate the financial implications of the agreement at this point.

Ms Komape addressed her previous statement about why DALRRD may not be ready. She clarified that her statement might not have been clear and emphasized that she is aware of the processes followed by the Republic of South Africa. However, she is not aware of the processes Cuba follows when they ratify agreements. This lack of clarity on Cuba's procedures may have caused confusion, and she apologized for any misunderstanding. She assures them that there is no ambiguity on the process DALRRD is supposed to follow for ratification. The current discussion serves to clarify and align the processes.

Mr Ramasodi reflected from a macro perspective of how memorandum of understanding (MOUs) function, particularly in this field. MOUs are based on agreements within international bodies, of which South Africa is a signatory member. At the apex level, when dealing with animal health and plant health, there is the World Trade Organization (WTO) and an agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary matters, which holds everything together at that apex level. Below this level, there are specific bodies governing plant and animal health. The International Plant Protection Convention oversees international standards for plant health, while the World Health Organization addresses animal health. MOUs underpin activities at the international level. At the bilateral level, countries agree on specific matters that would be mutually beneficial. .

Parliament had submitted a request stipulating that all Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) need to be ratified. This decision acknowledged and took into consideration the extensive list of numerous MOUs that the Department had submitted back in November 2022. In response to Parliament's request, all the requirements mentioned by Dr Tlhape, ranging from the memorandum to the legal reports, need to be included in the reporting process when ratifying MOUs. Understandably, with some of these MOUs they have encountered challenges in gathering all the necessary documents. Therefore, we began the process of acquiring the required documents so the department can align with Parliament's requirement. This is the reason for the delay as DALRRD has struggled with this. It is essential to clarify that we are not launching now; the launch occurred during the period when we were outlining the memoranda of understanding DALRRD has with our trading partners.

Article 12, as mentioned by Mr Matiase, clearly outlines when the agreement comes into force and how we address these issues. Our engagement with Cuba would be on various matters relating to animal and plant health and research and development.

On intellectual property (IP) and how we plan to safeguard our IP as a country, in any transfer of intellectual property, there needs to be a Material Transfer Agreement between the two parties. This agreement is a crucial step to ensure that the transfer is conducted under a specific memorandum of understanding, safeguarding the way the two countries engage with each other. This process is in place to protect and regulate the transfer of intellectual property between nations

We have all the necessary legal reports. All of those were submitted and DALRRD has them. There was full compliance and we will share these with Parliament for reflection.

To address the element raised by Mr Masipa, it is very important in line with a memorandum we sign with countries that a memorandum does not bind a country on all aspects. At a bilateral level you can have engagements and if you agree at the bilateral level on what kind of work needs to be done, then you can agree on those certain aspects. It does not impose binding obligations on the countries involved.

On potential long-term problems with OBP, if a situation arises where there is a well-functioning company in Cuba that can assist OBP, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) comes into play and it is able to then deal with those issues based on the MOU and engage with what you want to address.

All these issues would be addressed from the perspective of a joint working action plan. This action plan would then subdivide the work into different components. For example, if the focus is on plant health and the concern is certification, a joint working group would be established. This working group would engage on the specific issues and report to the apex body responsible for the memorandum of agreement, providing updates on the progress made at that particular level. This structure is also applicable to animal health. For each structure outlined in the memorandum of agreement, there would be a corresponding joint working group. This group, comprising individuals from the contracting parties (South Africa and Cuba, in this case), would sit down and address these issues as they arise and work through them sequentially.

Mr Ramasodi said the assessment is correct about numerous bilateral agreements that have been handled from a technical standpoint. These agreements involve joint working groups, and regular reporting mechanisms are in place. For example, we have a joint working group with China covering various issues, and we consistently provide updates on those matters.

However, we are committed to fulfilling the specific request from Parliament. We plan to submit other memoranda of agreement and understanding that we have with other parties to Parliament, aligning with the requests outlined. It was an oversight on our side and we will ensure that the necessary documents are prepared and given to the Portfolio Committee.

Follow up questions
Ms Tshwete asked to conclude the discussion on the legal opinion. She accepted the explanation on the financial implications being technical and that the finances will be determined as the process progresses.

The Chairperson said that this is our first engagement on this matter. We will request the Committee Secretary to engage with Parliament's Legal Services to obtain the legal opinions.

Mr Masipa said it is important that we also provide the Department with a list of what we need for proper deliberation. In future, this should be a standard procedure. They should have all the necessary documents required for ratification of international agreements.

The Chairperson thanked the Director-General, Ms Komape, and the officials of DALRRD for the briefing. They would continue to explore issues that have emerged from the briefing, such as seeking input from Legal Services.

Committee Report on Brazil Study Tour
The Chairperson  noted that this report was circulated to Committee members. It will go through it page by page, and if there are areas you pick up or want us to adjust, please indicate as we go along.

The Committee adopted the report.

The Chairperson said that brings to an end today's meeting. He requested that DALRRD submit to the mandatory explanatory memorandum with the following information. The first request is to briefly outline the history and the objectives and implications of the agreement. The second request is to indicate the cabinet recommendations and to include the two legal opinions of the state law advisers of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and Department of International Relations and Cooperation. The third request, is to state if the agreement has self-executing provisions that will become law in the Republic upon the approval of the agreement in Parliament. It should give an account of the projected financial and other costs of the agreement for the state as Parliament is responsible for passing the DALRRD budget. Lastly, it submits all other information needed by Parliament to make an informed decision.

The Chairperson addressed the Ingonyama Trust Board. His Majesty King Misuzulu Ka Zwelithini fired and replaced ITB Chairperson Nkosi Mzimela, appointing himself as the ITB Chairperson. He urged Committee members to reflect and consider if the Committee engage with His Majesty on the matter and Members are encouraged to share their thoughts throughout the week.

The Chairperson expressed his gratitude to DALRRD and the Committee and adjourned the meeting.

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