/ 28 May 2014

Europe’s imports decision leaves SA’s citrus future hanging

New Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana has been asked to prioritise a 'swift and amicable' resolution of the citrus black spot dispute within the EU.
New Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana has been asked to prioritise a 'swift and amicable' resolution of the citrus black spot dispute within the EU.

The European Commission’s decision on citrus black spot has ended uncertainty, but the future of the industry hangs in the balance, the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGA) said on Wednesday.

The European Commission’s standing committee on plant health on Tuesday endorsed stricter import requirements for South African citrus fruit to Europe.

“These emergency measures are being taken to protect European crops from citrus black spot, a harmful plant disease not native to Europe,” commission spokesperson Frederic Vincent said at the time.

“While onerous, the fruit testing requirements, both in the orchard and packhouse, are within our industry capacities,” said CGA chief executive Justin Chadwick.

He said the decision was encouraging in that it did not legislate automatic bans after a set number of black spot interventions, which was a position mooted in the past.

“Ominously, however, the decision does leave room for ‘additional measures’ to be imposed after five interceptions.”

It was also progressive that specific high-risk fruit would be targeted instead of a uniformly applied method, but some fruit would be unfairly affected.

The long-term prospects for the industry remained far from certain, Chadwick said.

The local citrus industry had gone to great lengths and excessive cost to show commitment and respect towards the European position on citrus black spot.

The measures it was insisting on included testing regimes and a comprehensive risk management process.

“This is simply not economically sustainable nor fair, as South Africa has been singled out for special treatment by the EU [European Union] in this regard.”

Short-term solution
Chadwick said the industry would adhere to and implement the necessary EU measures in the short-term.

In the long-term, it called on newly appointed Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana to prioritise a “swift and amicable” resolution of the citrus black spot dispute within the EU.

On Tuesday, the European committee said imported citrus would be subjected to more stringent criteria.

Pre and post-harvest chemical treatments would have to be recorded, there would be mandatory registration of packing houses and official on-site inspections at citrus orchards.

A sample of at least 600 of each type of citrus per 30 tonnes would have to be taken by South African authorities, Vincent said.

All fruit showing symptoms would be tested.

Plant protection
European Commissioner for Health Tonio Borg on Tuesday said plant protection in his territory was of utmost importance and that they had had no choice but to impose a stricter inspection regime.

“We had to take these measures because of the high number of recent interception of infected citrus fruits at European border controls.”

The measures taken were based on a recent European Food Safety Authority pest risk assessment, the EU said.

Chadwick said there had been a dispute for many years about the magnitude of the risk of citrus black spot, or the measures required for adequate mitigation.

“It is now imperative that this dispute – and the science that underlies it – is resolved once and for all.”

Infection fears
In November last year, the EU stopped importing citrus fruit from South Africa as there were concerns that citrus black spot could infect local crops.

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

In June, South Africa’s ambassador to Belgium Mxolisi Nkosi said the EU wanted to stop importing citrus fruit from South Africa.

Citrus harvesting and production in most of Europe has declined owing to weather conditions. In 2013, South Africa was the world’s biggest exporter of oranges and the largest shipper of grapefruit.

In 1993 the EU declared citrus black spot a phyto-sanitary measure. This meant it was placed on a trade watchlist at EU borders.

The consignment would be impounded if spotty fruit was found. This reduced the size of citrus shipments entering the EU.

According to the CGA, the local citrus industry earned R8-billion in foreign currency and provided 120 000 jobs, on which 1.2-million people were dependent. – Sapa