SOUTH AFRICA – The EU’s stringent plant health measures on citrus imports cost South African citrus growers nearly R4-billion (USD 220.3 million) annually, according to Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa (CGA).

Last week, the South African government took a historic step at the World Trade Organization (WTO). For the first time, the country has advanced cases in front of the WTO’s dispute settlement body (DSB) to the “panel stage.”

This means panels will hear and rule on a trade disagreement between South Africa and the European Union (EU) within months.

“Citrus supports 140,000 jobs on farms. Tens of thousands of those jobs will be unsustainable if the current EU measures continue or are intensified,” warns Chadwick.

This concern stems from the EU’s plant health measures on citrus imports from South Africa, aimed at preventing citrus black spot (CBS) and false codling moth (FCM).

Chadwick, in his recent post at the Daily Maverick stated how South Africa prides itself on a robust plant health system that ensures safe, quality fruit exports.

Despite this, the EU has imposed additional CBS and FCM measures, requiring more inspections, intense spray programs, excessive cold treatment protocols, and various costly administrative procedures.

Chadwick highlighted the impact on emerging black citrus growers, “Emerging black citrus growers, of whom we are proud to say there are more than 120, are placed under extreme stress by this financial burden.”

The CGA argues that the EU’s measures are not based on clear scientific principles and do not align with the WTO’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.

 Chadwick emphasizes the need for fairness and scientific accuracy in trade measures, stating, “Scientists confirm that the FCM and CBS measures at issue are unnecessary.”

The EU’s stringent measures not only impact South African growers but also European consumers. Chadwick notes that these measures ultimately increase prices for European consumers, while fair measures could stimulate the European citrus market by providing quality fruit at reasonable prices.

He underscores the complementary nature of northern and southern hemisphere citrus production, which ensures a year-round supply of good quality citrus.

The DSB, established in its current form in 1995, has ruled on almost 300 cases. South Africa’s cases concerning CBS and FCM are of serious concern for the country’s agriculture.

With Europe accounting for more than a third of South Africa’s citrus exports, last year’s 58 million 15kg cartons exported to Europe form the foundation of citrus profitability in South Africa.

The two panels on CBS and FCM are likely to be approved by the end of July and established within 45 days.

Hearings and reports usually conclude within six months, with a final ruling expected within 18 months. If the EU loses, it must adhere to the findings or face sanctions.

Chadwick is hopeful about the process ahead at the WTO. He expresses gratitude to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation for their efforts in defending local citrus jobs.

“The citrus industry is working closely with them during the process, and we are confident in our cases before the WTO,” he says.

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