EU set to ban SA cit­rus im­ports

Fears of fun­gal disease spread­ing to con­ti­nent

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - BUSINESS - CHAR­LIE DUN­MORE and ROBIN EM­MOTT

BRUS­SELS: The EU is pre­par­ing a ban on South African cit­rus im­ports that could take orange juice off Europe’s break­fast ta­bles next sum­mer and sour ef­forts in Brus­sels to broaden South African trade.

The move fol­lows the in­ter­cep­tion of 35 cit­rus ship­ments from South Africa that were con­tam­i­nated with the fun­gal black spot disease, which Euro­pean grow­ers fear could take hold in their cit­rus groves.

In re­sponse, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was draw­ing up plans for a ban that could be adopted by Euro­pean gov­ern­ments by the end of Novem­ber, said a source.

Another source said EU trade chief Karel De Gucht told South African of­fi­cials dur­ing a visit to Jo­han­nes­burg this week that the con­tam­i­nated ship­ments were “se­ri­ous and prob­lem­atic”, and that a re­sponse was needed.

South Africa ex­ports about 600 000 tons of cit­rus fruit to the EU each year, worth about $1.3 bil­lion (R13bn). It is the main source of orange juice for EU con­sumers in sum­mer.

The dis­pute comes at a sen­si­tive time be­cause the EU is seek­ing South Africa’s sup­port to un­lock stalled trade deals with sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

Dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions in South Africa this week, EU of­fi­cials of­fered to im­prove the terms of a bi­lat­eral free-trade deal dat­ing from 1999 by grant­ing South African su­gar farm­ers duty-free ac­cess to Europe.

For now the planned cit­rus ban would be largely sym­bolic, as it would only ap­ply to this year’s South African cit­rus har­vest, which ended in Oc­to­ber, mean­ing EU im­ports have al­ready stopped.

But the bloc’s food safety watch­dog is check­ing whether the disease has a risk of tak­ing hold in Europe’s es­ti­mated 500 000 hectares of cit­rus groves, and the EU could ex­tend the ban.

The head of the South African Cit­rus Grow­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, Justin Chad­wick, warned the com­mis­sion against a ban.

“Global ex­perts have con­firmed that cit­rus black spot is not a risk, so a ban would seem un­nec­es­sary,” he said.

While harm­less to hu­mans, cit­rus black spot causes un­sightly le­sions on the fruit and leaves of af­fected plants, re­duc­ing both har­vest qual­ity and quan­tity. There is no known cure, but fungi­cides can be used to con­trol the spread.

It is found in many cit­rusgrow­ing re­gions in the south­ern hemi­sphere as well as China and the US, but not in Europe. Since 2011, the num­ber of cit­rus ship­ments from South Africa found to con­tain black spot has av­er­aged about 35 each year.

Fol­low­ing calls by cit­rus grow­ers in top EU pro­ducer Spain to take a tougher stance on the is­sue, the com­mis­sion said it would be forced take ac­tion if more than five con­tam­i­nated ship­ments were in­ter­cepted from the coun­try this year.

“Ev­ery day, South Africa dis­plays its in­abil­ity to con­trol the pests in its crop,” Span­ish farm­ing as­so­ci­a­tion AVAASAJA said. “Po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests pre­vail over the risk that such im­ports pose to the fu­ture of Europe’s cit­rus farms.”

In its draft sci­en­tific opin­ion pub­lished in July, the Euro­pean Food Safety Au­thor­ity (Efsa) said the chance of cit­rus black spot tak­ing in hold in Europe was “mod­er­ately likely”. But it added there was a high level of un­cer­tainty.

Efsa is due to fi­nalise its as­sess­ment this year, and its find­ings will largely de­ter­mine what fur­ther moves, if any, the com­mis­sion will take to re­strict South African im­ports.

But a group of cit­rus black spot ex­perts said it had iden­ti­fied “fac­tual er­rors and omis­sions” in Efsa’s draft as­sess­ment, and that there was no recorded case of the disease ever hav­ing spread via fruit ex­ports. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: WILLEM LAW

NEW TECH­NOL­OGY: Oliver Bar­row, 12, queued out­side the iS­tore at the V&A Water­front from 4am yes­ter­day to get his hands on the new iPhone 5S and 5C, launched in South Africa yes­ter­day. He bought new phones for his en­tire fam­ily. The 5S has a R9 999 price tag, while the 5C will set you back R8 499.

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