Tons of fruit blocked in the EU, battle of oranges in South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa August 7 — Millions of cartons of oranges are spoiling in containers blocked at European ports as South Africa and the European Union clash in a dispute over import rules, citrus growers have said.

South Africa, the world’s second largest exporter of fresh citrus fruits after Spain, lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) last month after the EU introduced new safety requirements sanitary and phytosanitary measures which, according to orange growers, threaten their survival.

The measures came into force in July when ships were already at sea carrying hundreds of containers full of South African fruit to Europe, which blocked them on arrival, the Citrus Growers’ Association said ( CGA) of South Africa.

“It’s a complete and utter disaster,” CGA CEO Justin Chadwick told AFP by phone.

“Fantastic quality and safe food is (just) sitting there – and that at a time when people are worried about food safety.”

The EU rules aim to tackle the potential spread of an insect called the false codling moth, a pest native to sub-Saharan Africa that feeds on fruit, including oranges and grapefruit.

The new measures require South African farmers to apply extreme cold treatment to all oranges destined for Europe and to store the fruit at temperatures of two degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower for 25 days.

But the CGA says the move is unnecessary because the country already has its own more targeted means of preventing infestation.

In its WTO complaint, South Africa argued that the EU requirements were “not science-based”, more restrictive than necessary and “discriminatory”.

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South African citrus growers say the requirement puts undue additional pressure on an industry already in dire straits.

“It’s going to add a lot of cost…and right now that’s what no grower in the world can afford,” said Hannes de Waal, who runs the nearly 100-year-old Sundays River Citrus farm.

De Waal, whose company owns orange, clementine and lemon trees on 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) near the southeastern coastal town of Gqeberha, said revenues were already being squeezed by high production costs. shipping and fertilizer.

Transport costs have skyrocketed since Covid-19 hit, as have the price of fertilizer due to the war in Ukraine – Russia being one of the world’s largest producers.

– ‘Under pressure’ –

Europe is the biggest market for South Africa’s nearly $2 billion citrus industry, accounting for 37% of all exports, according to the CGA.

The new rules hit at the peak of South Africa’s orange season, during the southern hemisphere winter, when export operations were in full swing.

That gave fruit growers too little time to adapt, Chadwick said.

Some 3.2 million cartons of citrus fruit worth around 605 million rand ($36 million) left the port with paperwork believed to be incorrect on arrival.

The South African government was working to issue new documents for shipments that met the new criteria, but hundreds of containers could be destroyed, Chadwick said.

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South Africa already has an effective moth control system, according to the CGA.

“Our system involves cold treatment, but targeted at risk, whereas the EU measure is a blanket measure that covers all oranges, Chadwick said.

“The higher the risk, the more extreme the cold treatment,” he said of the South African measures.

The dispute is now with the WTO. The parties have 60 days to negotiate a solution. Failing this, the plaintiff may request that the case be decided by a panel of experts.

The EU said it was convinced of the “WTO compatibility” of its measures.

“The objective of the EU sanitary and phytosanitary safety criteria is to protect the territory of the Union from the potential significant impact on agriculture and the environment, should this pest become established in the Union” , a European Commission spokesperson said in a statement.

Chadwick hopes “sense” will prevail and a quick solution can be found.

“Our industry is under pressure. It’s basically a year of survival,” he said.

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