The South African Citrus Growers Association (CGA) has pres. Cyril Ramaphosa calls for urgent intervention with the European Union (EU)’s “unfair trade regulations imposed on the local citrus industry”, as thousands of jobs hang in the balance.
The CGA, together with various government departments, has long been lobbying to have the EU’s “unscientific and irrational” legislation, particularly on the levels of black spot on citrus, scrapped.
The law involves enforcing new cold treatment regulations due to the levels of black spot and false codling moth on citrus.
“However, the situation has now become so alarming that serious loss of income and consequently job losses are imminent – unless action is taken immediately,” says Deon Joubert of CGA.
“It is of the utmost importance that the government draws a line in the sand and asks the World Trade Organization (WTO) to declare an official dispute over the EU’s black spot regulations.”
According to experts in the citrus industry, black spot is merely a cosmetic issue that affects only a small percentage of citrus that is exported.
“Even though there is evidence that citrus fruits without leaves do not have a greater chance of spreading black spot, the EU continues to enforce these unreasonable measures. The EU is the only overseas market that takes this position on blackspot. Other markets recognize that the risk of the spread of the disease through trade in fresh fruit is completely negligible,” says Joubert.
“Through the EU’s actions, they are blocking South African citrus to unfairly benefit their own members, specifically the Spanish citrus industry.”
Joubert says they are particularly concerned about the “erroneous” classifications of black spot that have been noticed lately.
In Belgium and Portugal it has already come to light that the tests for black spot are unreliable, as there have been several false positives. In addition, Portugal also claims that black spot has been found in citrus from the Western Cape, although it has already been proven that this province is black spot free.
Joubert says CGA is formulating formal objections about these interceptions.
“This type of action indicates an established agenda to block South African trade.”
Local citrus farmers have already spent millions, and even billions, of rand so that they meet the EU’s strict requirements for citrus. However, the money that has to be raised for this is not viable.
“If the EU’s legislation is not investigated, people’s jobs and livelihoods will be destroyed,” he says.
The citrus exported to the EU enables South African farmers to provide work for around 70,000 people. It also generates R15 billion in foreign exchange.