Letter: Agriculture feels state's heavy hand - Business Day, 4th October 2013.

The spirit of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill of 2013 (the mining bill) seems to have permeated through to agriculture.

THE spirit of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill of 2013 (the mining bill) seems to have permeated through to agriculture.

The mining bill allows the minister of mineral resources to prohibit the exports of minerals she "designates" as required for local beneficiation.

Now the Marketing of Agricultural Products Amendment Bill of 2013 empowers the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries minister to issue regulations laying down "conditions regarding the export and import" of any agricultural, forestry, or fisheries product.

The bill also empowers the director-general in her department to "allow the importation … or … exportation … of agricultural, forestry, and fisheries products under the authority of a permit issued by the director-general on such conditions as he may determine".

This marks a new degree of dirigisme, which could require the state’s consent for both the exporting and the importing of all fish, timber, and food products, irrespective of the impact on consumer prices, producer profitability, or food security.

The bill also allows the minister to take charge of the considerable funds accumulated by the maize and other marketing boards before they were abolished in the 1990s. It requires all the agricultural trusts that received such funds to "align their objectives and activities" with the goals laid down in the bill, which include the provision of "marketing infrastructure" and "marketing skills".

The bill also gives the minister the power to stop these trusts from using their funds as they see fit. It even allows her to order such trusts to change their trust deeds, provided her directives are "not inconsistent" with the objectives of the bill and the Trust Property Control Act of 1988.

There seems no end to the hubris of a government whose interventions have already damaged both the mining and agricultural sectors but is nevertheless determined to extend its powers ever further.

Dr Anthea Jeffery

Head of Special Research, South African Institute of Race Relations

First published in Business Day on 3rd October 2013.

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