SA-EU citrus exports under scrutiny

11 June 2013

South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and European Commission vice-president Baroness Catherine Ashton discussed citrus fruit exports on Monday.

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

“Discussions have already been accelerated, and scientific research [into the citrus spot problem] will continue.”

The discussion was held behind closed doors at the European External Affairs headquarters in Belgium’s capital, Brussels.

About 70 percent of the European Union’s citrus consumption comes from South Africa.

On Sunday, South Africa’s ambassador to Belgium, Mxolisi Nkosi, said the EU wanted to stop some imports from South Africa, like citrus fruit. He said the EU was increasingly using protectionism to block certain exports. Nkosi said the citrus sector contributed about R6-billion to South Africa’s gross domestic product.

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.

Citrus imports were halted after some shipments of fruit were tainted with a disease which affects the external appearance of the fruit. In 1993 the EU declared citrus black spot a phyto-sanitary 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 SA’s citrus exports to the EU.