CGA calls on a dispute to be declared against the EU in connection with the so-called citrus black spot

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The Citrus Growers’ Association has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a dispute against the European Union in connection with the so-called citrus black spot also known as CBS, a fungus that can be found in citrus.

The EU CBS regulations cost the local exporting citrus industry over R2 billion per year in terms of mitigating risk. And there are concerns that some European countries declare cargo to be affected with citrus black spot when that’s not the case.

The industry is calling on the president to take the matter to the World Trade Organization to put the matter to bed, once and for all.

It’s a long-established industry, having exported citrus to European shores for over 110 years. But in 2012 the EU implemented rules against the so-called citrus black spot, a fungal disease that can be found in citrus fruits. This meant the South African industry had to mitigate against the risk of its citrus exports developing the black spot phenomenon, which has added significant cost to industry operations.

The Citrus Growers’ Association says the EU has been overzealous in its enforcement of CBS, to an extent where in some cases citrus that’s perfectly fine is deemed to be infected with citrus black spot, citing Belgium and Portugal as some of the culprits. The Citrus Growers Association has called on President Ramaphosa to step in and declare a dispute with the EU at the World Trade Organization on the matter.

“The good thing is if you declare a dispute, you force it into a structured process where there are consultations and where each guy presents his case and you can see you’ve got a great case poor case and if you can’t find a solution, compromise and goes to a panel that’s appointed and then from that process, they look at the data and say, no, this can continue or, no, this is utter nonsense or this is wrong. So, we’ve got an extremely strong, technical case, so we’re very confident with this and we’re sure that if a dispute is declared and it goes the full distance, we’ll have massive relief to the industry and we can continue to grow this industry,” says Deon Joubert, Market Access Special Envoy: SA Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA).

The citrus growers’ association says that it’s been working with the government over a number of years to get this issue attended to and says that the two parties are very much on the same page.

“Luckily, the President and the DTIC and the Minister of Agriculture, they’ve all been on record to say that this measure on CBS is just a trade. A serious discriminatory, trade-restrictive policy of the EU, it’s got no bearing, it’s got no base in science, and it’s not about plant health. It’s just a political game in Europe. And they’ve been trying to negotiate their way out of, to some sort of agreement, settlement with the EU over the past 8 or 9 years to no effect,” Joubert added.

Agricultural experts say the citrus industry is a significant foreign currency earner and job creator and that everything possible should be done to resolve the CBS matter.

“If you look at the products that we send to the world market, citrus is one of the important products. We’re making up about 13% of our $12.8 billion of agricultural exports, so any challenges faced by this industry in the exports markets is something that is always concerning when we think about the South African Agricultural economy and, of course, the EU is one of those important markets, which is why the black spot challenges that we’re currently talking about now will need to see the SA authorities working with the EU and our scientists to find some common ground and resolve the challenge so that we can continue to see these exports,” says Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist: Agricultural Business Chamber SA.

There’s a lot at stake. Rural communities are significant beneficiaries of the citrus industry in terms of job creation. And at a broader numbers level, if the European Union decided to halt importing South African citrus exports because of citrus black spot, that would cost the industry some 70 000 jobs and the country R15 billion in foreign currency earnings.

 Video: Citrus Growers’ Association calls for a dispute declaration with EU