Agriculture Minister steps up efforts to save citrus fruits shipped to EU

“Our farmers need to be confident that our minister and the department are working around the clock to negotiate a successful outcome,” said Reggie Ngcobo, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.

The short term goal is to negotiate the unloading of citrus shipments, which would avoid the worst scenario of product destruction. However, South Africa has filed a formal dispute against the EU with the World Trade Organization.

The trade fracas have caused an outcry among South African citrus growers and have even reached the highest corridors of power, with the issue being raised when European Council President Charles Michel met with President Cyril Ramaphosa A week ago.

South African citrus exports to the EU generate more than €1 billion ($1 billion) for the industry, according to the CGA.

At the end of June, as ships loaded with 2,000 containers of South African citrus fruits headed for Europe, the EU announced the introduction of a new phytosanitary measure, which jeopardized the import of the products .

The Minister of Agriculture – assisted by a technical team from the Ministry of Agriculture, a South African agricultural attaché based in Europe, and with the support of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Competition – had daily contact with the EU.

“We have spoken to the EU to make them understand that what they want cannot be done in three days,” says Ngcobo. “What is important is that the ships in Europe are unloaded.”

There is no doubt in our mind as to the origin of the pressure

“Farmers are harvesting. For some of our farmers, it is no longer possible to comply [with the new EU phytosanitary measure]says Ngcobo. “Our position is that the EU grants[s] us time, then, during the next harvest, the farmers will prepare the citrus fruits according to the new directive.

Although the Minister of Agriculture is leading the discussions, the Commerce Department is on board “to ensure that the correct trade protocols are followed,” Ngcobo said. “We hope that the EU will allow our citrus fruits to pass [at its ports].”

The new measure was published on June 21 and came into effect on June 24, leaving South African citrus growers little doubt that the directive was intended to protect Spain, which is itself a citrus grower. prolific and a competitor, says Chadwick.

Ships loaded with South African citrus arrived in Europe on July 14.

spanish link

“We saw how the process unfolded in the EU, where the science arm – the EU Plant Health Division – had withdrawn the measures,” says Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association (CGA). “[…] a few days later, the Spanish agriculture minister flew to Brussels and made sure [measures] were put back on the table and quickly adopted.

“There’s no question in our minds where the pressure is coming from,” Chadwick says. “Interestingly, there were not only problems with oranges, which were affected by the new measure, but also with shipments of grapefruits and tangerines.

Therefore, the producers had to make a clerical change phytosanitary certificates for grapefruits and mandarins.

“Fortunately, the Ministry of Agriculture intervened and adjusted these phytosanitary certificates so that all these shipments [of grapefruit and mandarins] could be cleared on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” says Chadwick. “[However]with oranges, the phytosanitary certificates must be adjusted [to show] whether the correct procedures have been followed. We are working on that. Hopefully those [orange consignments] will be erased.

Export economics

To date, most South African oranges are shipped to the Far East and the Middle East – for an additional charge – instead of the EU, according to Chadwick. “It’s not great,” he says. “These markets are either oversupplied or undersupplied.”

The dispute with the EU aggravates the difficulties faced by producers, who have had to deal with “exploding freight rates”.

“We know what happened to fuel prices,” Chadwick says. “We see the same thing with fertilizer prices, input prices. The citrus export economy is under severe pressure.

As far as the EU is concerned, the “longer-term plan is to challenge the measure itself,” says Chadwick. The CGA expects to hear more news on how South Africa will proceed in the coming weeks.

Despite the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, South African citrus growers have been able to send shipments to St. Petersburg “without any problems”. Russia accounts for 7-10% of South African citrus exports.

South Africa’s citrus export season kicks off in April and continues through September and October, when the last fruits are shipped, Chadwick says.

The industry expects to ship 165 million tonnes of citrus fruits in 2022, slightly above last year’s 163 million tonnes.

“President Ramaphosa has supported the process of further discussions to be held at ministerial level to find a solution that will enable sustained trade in the citrus sub-sector,” said a presidential statement released last week. of the meeting with the President of the European Council. .