An updated version of this article was published in April 2018, click here to read.
Both Botswana and Namibia have been supplying small quantities of chilled and frozen beef to the EU, and especially to the UK, for many years and the EU has just signed a trade pact with six southern African countries, known as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). This will ensure that this trade will continue and that no import tariffs or quotas will apply. Access to the EU is considered vital to the beef industries of both countries, as it offers good returns, otherwise trade in the region is largely led by South Africa. In addition, both countries also have access to the Norwegian market.
In 2015, Botswana and Namibia were the joint sixth largest suppliers to the UK, each shipping 4,300 tonnes. While it still only gave them a combined share of three per cent of all UK imports, the proportion rises to over a third if intra-EU trade is excluded. Shipments to the EU in total amounted to 16,500 tonnes (7,100 tonnes from Botswana and 9,300 tonnes from Namibia). Together they had a combined market share of eight per cent of EU chilled and frozen imports. Generally, shipments have averaged around 15-20,000 tonnes each year in recent times. In 2015 shipments amounted to 15,400 tonnes. Namibia is the more reliable supplier, given its high animal health status and robust disease controls, especially in relation to FMD. In contrast, Botswana has not been without FMD disease outbreaks, not helped by the breakdown of disease controls in Zimbabwe. In 2012, its shipments to the EU amounted to less than 500 tonnes. Zimbabwe was another small supplier to the EU, including the UK, until an FMD outbreak in 2001 led to a suspension in trade which has never resumed.
Beef production in Botswana is mainly focussed on traditional cattle, there is only limited commercial-style ranching. Last year its trade to the United Kingdom consisted of chilled and frozen product in almost equal amounts. Some of the frozen product is utilised for further processing, while the chilled beef are steak cuts used in foodservice. In the case of beef from Namibia, production includes more commercial ranching and 90 per cent of its trade with the UK in 2015 was chilled product, mainly consisting of steak cuts destined for the foodservice sector.
In both countries, beef production is constrained by the fact that cattle resources are not considerable, given limited availability of natural grazing, low productivity and access to inputs, including feed, which, for example, restricts the scope for feedlot finishing. The industries of both countries generally have a high cost structure, including low slaughterhouse throughput, compared with other suppliers to the EU. Despite this, cattle production is important for both countries; in Namibia, for example, 60 per cent of households have ownership of some cattle. Each country has a herd of just over two million head, mainly beef cattle, given the absence of a significant dairy industry.
Both countries seem likely to remain small suppliers to the EU and will also be anxious to maintain shipments to the UK following BREXIT, given the importance of this market in value terms. There is no indication, though, that trade with Zimbabwe will resume in the foreseeable future, as it is not part of the EPA.