New EU law could see R600m worth of SA citrus en route to Europe destroyed

The Citrus Growers Association (CGA) says new European Union cold treatment regulations for oranges could see 3.2 million cartons of South African citrus fruit currently headed to the region – worth more than R600 million – being destroyed by authorities.

Deon Joubert, CGA special envoy for market access and EU matters, says the regulations were published in the Official Journal of the EU on 21 June, and despite several objections will be effective from 14 July.

“The fact that authorities are trying to enforce these new regulations a mere 23 days after publication, making it impossible for South African growers to comply, highlights how unjustified and discriminatory this legislation is, with European consumers and local rural workers ultimately paying the price,” says Joubert.

Read: A ‘perfect storm’ threatens Southern African citrus industry

In a statement issued on Monday, CGA said the EU Standing Committee on Plant, Animal, Food and Feed published the new regulations in a bid to address interceptions of false codling moth (FCM) – a native citrus pest in South Africa – from southern African orange exports.

Cold shoulder

According to Joubert, the regulations require imports of citrus fruit to undergo specified mandatory cold treatment processes and precooling steps for specific periods, including up to 25 days of cold treatment, before shipping and subsequent importation.

“Most critically, local citrus growers currently export 800 000 tonnes of high-quality citrus fruit to the EU annually, yet FCM interceptions have been consistently low over the past three years,” he says, adding that there were 19 interceptions in 2019, 14 in 2020 and 15 in 2021.

Joubert says FCM interceptions from other importing countries have been much higher. “However, no measures have been proposed against these countries.”

He adds that the nature of the cold treatment prescribed in the new regulations contradicts scientific evidence, making it an unnecessary trade-restrictive measure that contravenes international requirements for such phytosanitary trade regulations.

“A significant portion of South Africa’s commercial orange production will also not be able to withstand the new prescribed cold treatment,” says Joubert, explaining that organic and chemical-free oranges are particularly prone to chilling injury and will be most severely impacted.

He notes that no FCM interceptions have been reported in the EU on these environment-friendly and sustainable orange types.

Pressure

Joubert says the new regulations will result in notable gaps in the supply chain and higher prices for European consumers – and further threaten the sustainability and profitability of South Africa’s citrus industry.

He says 140 000 jobs sustained by the local industry are at risk.

Read: Eastern Cape gets export boost from Transnet’s R9bn ports investment

The CGA says South Africa is currently engaging with its counterparts in the EU to reconsider the regulations, arguing that they do not carry technical weight and appear to be a politically motivated move by Spanish producers to exclude southern African citrus from the European market.

“It would be unconscionable if political agendas result in millions of cartons of top-quality citrus being destroyed,” it says.

Listen as Fifi Peters chats to Citrus Growers Association vice-chair Hannes de Waal (or read the transcript here) on citrus exports:

Nondumiso Lehutso is a Moneyweb intern.

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