Johannebsurg - Stricter import requirements for South African citrus fruit to Europe were endorsed on Tuesday, the European Commission said.

“These emergency measures are being taken to protect European crops from citrus black spot (CBS), a harmful plant disease not native to Europe,” commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said.

“According to the new measures, citrus fruits imported from South Africa will be subject to more stringent criteria such as recording pre- and post-harvest chemical treatments and mandatory registration of packing houses as well as on-site official inspections at citrus orchards.”

The decision to implement the requirements was taken by the EU's member state experts in the standing committee on plant health.

A sample of at least 600 of each type of citrus per 30 tonnes would need to be taken by South African authorities, Vincent said.

All fruit showing symptoms would be tested.

“Plant protection on EU territory is of the utmost importance and the EU had no choice but to impose a stricter inspection regime for South African citrus fruit,” said commissioner for health, Tonio Borg.

“We had to take these measures because of the high number of recent interception of infected citrus fruits at European border controls.”

The measures taken were based on a recent European Food Safety Authority pest risk assessment, the EU said.

In November last year, the EU stopped importing citrus fruit from South Africa as there were concerns that CBS could infect local crops.

About 70 percent of the EU's citrus consumption comes from South Africa.

In June, South Africa's ambassador to Belgium, Mxolisi Nkosi, told Sapa the EU wanted to stop importing citrus fruit from South Africa.

He said the EU was increasingly using protectionism to block certain imports. The citrus sector contributed about R6 billion to South Africa's gross domestic product, he said at the time.

Citrus harvesting and production in most of Europe has declined due to weather conditions. In 2013, South Africa was the world's biggest exporter of oranges and the largest shipper of grapefruit.

In 1993 the EU declared CBS a phyto-sanitary measure. This meant it was placed on a trade watch-list at EU borders.

If spotty fruit was found the consignment would be impounded. This reduced the size of citrus shipments entering the EU.