The SA Citrus Growers has previously said that the cost of compliance with measures to control citrus black spot are economically unsustainable. South Africa supplies about 70 percent of the EU's citrus demand. Photo: Supplied

Faced with stringent EU checks on imported fruit, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies yesterday appeared to agree with fears from the citrus industry that such measures were in fact driven by protectionist demands rather than plant health issues.

Speaking on the sidelines of the National Localisation indaba in Durban, Davies said he was glad that the EU had not disrupted the country’s citrus exports, “but imposing further measures there is a potentiality that they might intercept the citrus in the future”.

In November, the EU stopped importing local citrus on concerns that citrus black spot could infect European crops.

Davies said he was yet to be convinced that this was fundamentally driven by plant health requirements rather than protectionist demands of the citrus industry.

“I am yet to be convinced. This might also be a sign of the name of the game in international trade these days, it could be about such measures and no longer about tariffs,” he said.

His comments come after much stricter measures were imposed on the South African citrus industry by the European Commission last month.

According to the new measures, local citrus exporters will now have to record pre- and post-harvest chemical treatments, as well as maintain a mandatory registration list of packing houses and undergo official inspections at orchards.

These measures were decided on by member state experts on the EU’s standing committee on plant health.

“We have engaged quite a bit on this matter and we have conveyed the view that comes from our side and from our scientists that there is no unambiguous and agreed science which says that citrus black spot can be transmitted to other citrus orchards’ fruits.”

Davies said that there was also a common agreement that the disease could not cause any damage to human health.

He added that a number of proposals were made as to whether there could be a differentiated access regime for areas where citrus was produced in the EU.

“We are the largest exporter to Europe and have 80 000 jobs at stake.”

South Africa supplies about 70 percent of the EU’s citrus demand. The industry generates R8 billion revenue a year.

The SA Citrus Growers Association previously said the cost of compliance with measures to control citrus black spot were economically unsustainable. It said they were onerous and would require a lot of capacity from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. – Business Report