It is clear from talk in the South African citrus industry that they have now all but lost patience with the barriers the European Union is dishing up under the guise of their perceived threat of Citrus Black Spot being transferred to their orchards. The South Africans have over time demonstrated that there is no scientific base for these claims, so it is not surprising that the European stance is referred to as blatant protectionism.

But then, the Europeans are masters at these kinds of things and one has a feeling that unless they loose on the international stage, nothing will change.

[divider]summer011South Africa, or South African growers, have been forced to introduce measures to reduce the risk of CBS being found on their fruit. As things stand at present if only 5 true cases are found in a season, the EU can shut down the country’s exports to what is one of its biggest markets. The South African growers have to foot the bill of what is increasingly seen as protectionist measures being applied by the EU to satisfy the Mediterranean countries where most of Europe’s citrus is grown.

It is an open secret that South Africa has been manoeuvring itself into a strong position to take the might of Europe on in the World Trade Organisation. So far the South Africans have done everything they can not to seek confrontation, but at the same time they have been building a case with strong international; support, both politically and scientifically based. So once the case reaches the WTO, the gloves will be off and if it does not go well for the Europeans, it could affect the basis of all the laws they so easily dish up to protect their producers.

[divider]fruits02But the South Africans will be wise not to forget how the Europeans have out-manoeuvred them in just about every trade deal which have been negotiated in our democratic era.

They will fight tooth and nail to protect their own industries. They are masters at doing so! The debate also comes at a time when the European citrus producers are not exactly having a good time. The Spanish group, Anecoop, said that in spite of posting a record breaking sales volume of 746,342 tonnes, an increase of 4.4 per cent on the previous year, the citrus season had been poor, with sales falling by 1.1 per cent and prices down 1.7 per cent on 2013/14 levels.

It does not make the South African case easier when it is noted that in general the South Africans had an excellent season last year. Boosted by a declining currency the South Africans did extremely well. So how do you argue that you are having a bad time because of being treated unfairly by the Europeans while the bank vaults are being enlarged?

According to Anecoop grower unions have complained repeatedly to trade authorities about the role of the retailers in sinking orange and mandarin prices, prompting the announcement of the creation of a committee for the agri-food supply chain in order to prevent abusive practices and protect the food industry. At least they are directing their anger at the European super markets!

[divider]citrus15While the South Africans will not be displeased that the Spanish are taking on the super markets, one can expect that they will also increasingly campaign against imported fruit, particularly late mandarins, which is increasingly sold late in the South African season and is seen as intruding into what was in the past seen as the start of the Spanish season.

During the next few months it will again be crunch time for the South Africans. The bulk of their Valencia oranges, produced mainly in the regions which are prone to CBS, are packed from the end of June and this is when the risk is the highest.