Without certificates, South African wool buyers cannot export raw wool to China.

Without certificates, South African wool buyers cannot export raw wool to China.

After taking the decision yesterday (18 August) to halt raw wool and mohair exports to China over concerns about Rift Valley Fever, a delegation from the South African government is now preparing to head to China in an attempt to reinstate shipments.

The move comes after the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on Wednesday stopped issuing clearing certificates for the fibres. According to industry group Cape Wools SA, the decision was taken because "they say the disease is too wide spread."

A statement from the Department said it was "ethically impossible" to guarantee that the wool was from areas free of Rift Valley Fever (RVF).

Until now, China has restricted imports of raw wool from any country where the disease is found, unless a particular export batch is accompanied by a clearing certificate signed by a state veterinarian that it originated from an area where the disease does not occur.

China, the largest importer of South African wool, is the only country with this requirement.

The decision not to issue the certificates means that South African wool buyers are currently unable to export raw wool to China.

Last season, South Africa exported ZAR933m (US$128m) worth of raw wool to China - its largest customer for the commodity - according to Cape Wools SA. The trading partner had been expected buy even more this year.

Rift Valley Fever is a virus that mainly affects animals but can also be passed on to humans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) human infection may result from mosquito bites or from direct or indirect contact with the blood or organs of infected animals.

However, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in 2009 ruled that "hides, skins, wool and fibre" do not require RVF-related conditions on certificates, regardless of the RVF status of the ruminant population of the exporting country.

Although China was a signatory of this protocol, the Chinese authorities still require certification by a state veterinarian that the relevant import batch originates from an area free of RVF.

They argue that RVF does not occur in China and that the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of the People's Republic of China (AQSIQ), considers it a key quarantine disease in accordance with Chinese law.

China also requires a waiting period of 12 months before wool from RVF areas will be allowed into the country.

A technical delegation from the Department this week left for China to discuss possible alternatives. South Africa's Minister of Agriculture is also leaving for China on Saturday and will discuss the issue.