South Africa: tons of oranges blocked in European ports for health reasons

Tons of South African oranges cannot access the European market. They have been stuck in ports for three weeks and face destruction as South Africa and the European Union (EU) clash over the application of new health measures.

South Africa, the world’s second largest exporter of fresh citrus after Spain, lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) when the EU introduced these phytosanitary rules which, according to South African producers, threaten their survival. enacted at the height of the orange season, they took growers by surprise.

The new measures came into force on July 14, 2022 when ships carrying hundreds of containers, full of South African fruit bound for Europe, were already at sea. according to the South African Citrus Growers Association (CGA).

Measures deemed “excessive”

Some 3.2 million boxes of citrus fruits worth around 35 million euros left with papers that were no longer valid on arrival. The South African government rushed to issue new documents for shipments meeting the new criteria, but hundreds of containers had to be destroyed, according to Justin Chadwick, CEO of the South African Producers Association. citrus.

The EU rules aim to tackle the potential spread of the parasite Haumatotibia leucotreta (or false codling moth), an African butterfly that has a thing for oranges and grapefruits.

Brussels requires the treatment by extreme cold of all oranges intended for European tables and maintenance at temperatures below or equal to two degrees Celsius for 25 days. Which, according to South African producers, is not necessary, as the country already has more targeted means to prevent infestation.

“The system already in place with us involves cold treatment, but targeted at the risk, whereas the EU measure is a general measure which concerns all oranges”

Justin Chadwick, CEO of the South African Citrus Growers Association

AFP

The purpose of phytosanitary criteria is to protect the EU “of the potential significant impact on agriculture and the environment, should this pest become established” in Europe, according to a European Commission spokesperson.

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In its complaint to the WTO, South Africa argues that European requirements are not “not based on scientific data”what are “discriminatory” and “excessive”.

A sector “under pressure”

In addition, these new standards would put additional stress on an already tested sector, according to the South African authorities. “Our industry is under pressure. For us, this is the year of survival”explains Justin Chadwick.

“It will add costs. And right now, that’s what no producer in the world can afford”, insists Hannes de Waal who runs the nearly century-old Sundays River Citrus farm in the south-east of the country. The South African operator at the head of a a company that owns orange, clementine and lemon trees on more than 7,000 hectares − has already seen its income eroded by rising transport costs since the pandemic. Added to this is the increase in fertilizer prices, due to the war in Ukraine.

Europe is the biggest market for South African citrus. The sector employs more than 120,000 people in South Africa, a country where more than one in three people are unemployed.

The CEO of the South African Citrus Growers Association hopes the “common sense” will prevail and that a quick solution can be found. The parties have 60 days to negotiate a solution. Failing this, the complainant may request arbitration by a panel. The EU expressed confidence in the “compatibility of its measures with WTO rules”.

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