EU, SA talk exports after citrus disease scare

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and European commission – European Union's executive body – vice-president Baroness Catherine Ashton discussed citrus exports on Monday behind closed doors at the European External Affairs' headquarters in Belgium's capital, Brussels.

"Yes, we engaged on the citrus issue and there has been an undertaking, and producers will still be engaging," Mashabane told reporters in Belgium.

"Discussions have already been accelerated, and scientific research would continue [into the citrus spot problem]."

The European Union (EU) on Monday planned to stop certain imports from South Africa after some shipments of fruit were found to have the citrus black spot disease.

The spot is a fungal disease which affects the external appearance of the fruit.

In 1993 the EU declared citrus black spot a phytosanitary measure.

This meant it was placed on a trade watch-list at EU borders. If spotty fruit was found, the consignment would be impounded. This reduced the size of citrus exports to the EU.

About 70% of the EU's citrus consumption comes from South Africa.

R6-billion citrus sector
On Sunday, South Africa's ambassador to Belgium Mxolisi Nkosi said the EU wanted to stop some citrus fruit imports from African country.

"There is a trend of rising protectionism that the EU is using to threaten to block some of our exports, including citrus exports," he said on Sunday, during an unofficial meeting with South African diplomats at his home in Brussels.

The South African delegation from the international relations department arrived in Brussels on Saturday ahead of bilateral talks and political engagement.

Nkosi said at the time that the citrus sector contributed around R6-billion to South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP).

The rise in citrus production was mainly due to the increase in cultivation areas, packaging and transport improvements, and preferences for healthier food options. But citrus harvesting and production in most of Europe continued to decline, particularly at the present time of year, due to the weather.

South Africa is the world's biggest exporter of oranges and the largest shipper of grapefruit. – Sapa

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