THE Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing says it will soon lift the red meat importation ban that it imposed last March.
The ministry made the announcement using its official Facebook page yesterday.
The lifting of the ban comes after the Ministry partially banned red meat importation last March to capacitate the local meat production industry.
Under the set-up, only grade A meat products that are not available in the country could be imported. Only Meraka Lesotho, the only accredited abattoir in the country, was allowed to import live animals for production of grade A meat.
The move was however, met with criticism from many sectors of the community who accused the government of enacting the ban to ensure that Meraka enjoyed an unfettered monopoly as the sole importer and supplier of red meat in Lesotho.
The meat traders also claimed that the ban gave Meraka unfair competitive advantage as it also competed with retailers by supplying meat to the final consumers.
They claimed this was taking many intermediary meat traders out of business.
Other customers claimed that Meraka does not sell some of the meat products they need, which may have influenced smuggling of red meat into the country. For instance, the Lesotho Revenue Authority confiscated M24 000 worth of meat products which were suspected to have been smuggled into the country through Caledonspoort Border in Butha-Buthe last November.
And yesterday the ministry announced the imminent lifting of the ban.
“Borders are going to be opened for importation of red meat…more information to follow,” the brief statement said.
Minister Chalane Phori’s cellphone was not immediately available, while the Principal Secretary, Lerata Pekane, said he was in a business meeting in South Africa.
The lifting of the ban was confirmed by the general secretary of the Meat Traders Association of Lesotho, Teboho Motšephe, who said it was a victory on their side as the government had finally given in to their pleas for lifting of the ban.
“This is an indication that this was not a good move,” Mr Motsephe said.
He however, still believes that if the ban was executed differently, it would have been beneficial to the industry instead of a few players.
“We are happy about the lifting of the ban, although we know that this is going to have a negative impact on the economy through.
“As meat traders, we need to come up with a plan to ensure that we buy meat from local farmers so that we reduce the erosion of our economy due to too much importation of meat products,” Mr Motsephe said.
He said they hope to see government restricting importation of red meat to certain meat traders only, so that final consumers like mining companies and large organisations do not import red meat.
“We would also like to see Meraka, slaughtering more than importing meat carcasses like it is doing at the moment. The facility also has a feedlot that is not operational. If it is unable to use it, we would like to have access to it so that we can help in increasing the local production of red meat.”
Below are some of the suggestions that the association wishes to see implemented within the industry for the benefit of all players:
To avoid unfair competition, the association wants only licensed red meat traders buying meat from the wholesale, Meraka Lesotho Abattoir and Feedlot. This means that individuals, catering companies, government departments, mining companies, hospitals, institutions of higher education and all other categories who do not have red meat trading licenses should not purchase meat directly from Meraka.
They also want meat wholesalers banned from selling meat at retail prices. They also want all butcheries, which are classified as small businesses to be operated by Basotho.
The association also wants all government departments to purchase their red meat supplies from licensed members of the Meat Traders Association Lesotho in support the government’s efforts to grow small businesses. The association wants Meraka and other meat wholesalers barred from bidding for government tenders.
Lastly, the association wants the government to ban the importation of processed red meat products to protect the local market which now has processing skills and the equipment.