Saudi Arabia lifts 20-year ban on SA meat imports, initiates strategic economic expansion into Africa

In a significant move toward economic diversification, Saudi Arabia has ended a 20-year ban on South African meat imports, marking a strategic investment in the continent’s leading economy. Matthew Karan, part-owner of Karan Beef, a major South African meat producer, revealed that approvals for halaal cuts shipments to the $2 billion Saudi meat market are in place. The breakthrough is part of Saudi Arabia’s broader initiative to strengthen trade ties, exploring collaborations in pharmaceuticals, technology, and sports investments, showcasing a determined shift away from oil-centric economic reliance.

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By Loni Prinsloo and S’thembile Cele

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.

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

Saudi Arabia has a $2 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 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 formalized on Jan. 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 Holdings Ltd. set to work with Saudi companies on endocrine and anesthetic products, said Stavros Nicolaou, Aspen’s senior executive for strategic trade and co-chairman 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, the Middle Eastern nation’s flag carrier, resumed direct flights to Johannesburg after a 3 1/2-year hiatus in December. 

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. 

The country that vies with the US to be the world’s biggest oil producer is plowing 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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