File photo: Nonhlanhla Kambule

South African citrus growers would continue exporting citrus to the EU because the European Commission had not yet made a final decision on the matter, Deon Joubert, the special envoy on market access and EU matters at the Citrus Growers Association, said on Wednesday.

The association was to hear on Wednesday whether its citrus – worth an annual R4 billion – was still welcomed in the European market.

This follows the detection of citrus black spot in some export products. Citrus black spot is a fungal disease that is endemic to South Africa but unable to survive in Europe.

Joubert confirmed earlier reports by other media that the standing committee on plant health, which forms part of the European Commission, had decided to prolong its discussions in order to find a suitable agreement.

Joubert believed the final agreement would be reached in a month’s time.

“The export requirements that we already have in the current risk management system are still in place. There is no change to that. We still be able to export,” he said.

South Africa was, after Spain and Turkey, the largest exporter to world markets in 2012.

Joubert said the EU had not decided on the July crop, which would arrive in Europe in August. The “next meeting we are having will be in a month and I presume that a decision would be made at that time”.

According to Sapa, European Commission spokesman Federic Vincent said the standing committee on plant health would not take an immediate decision on imports of citrus from South Africa.

“It has been decided to prolong the discussions with the member states in order to find a suitable agreement in the very near future, possibly next month,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Joubert told Business Report that South Africa’s citrus exports had not been banned from Europe. He said the ban, imposed in November, was only “symbolic” and had not had a practical effect last year.

He said the recent discussions were on what regime or set of rules South Africa would adopt for its exports this year.

The European Food Safety Authority earlier this year revised its risk management assessment on citrus black spot and found there was some risk associated with imports from South Africa. The authority recommended the EU regulations should be retained and compliance be enforced.

Local growers have over the past years introduced more stringent measures to prevent the disease. These include using cleaner water, spraying plants and inspecting the fruit before and after packaging.