File picture: Reuters

Johannesburg - Stricter import requirements for South African citrus fruit shipments to Europe had been endorsed, the European Commission said yesterday.

“These emergency measures are being taken to protect European crops from citrus black spot, 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 onsite official inspections at citrus orchards.”

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

South African authorities would need to take a sample of 600 of each type of citrus out of every 30 tons, Vincent said. All fruit showing symptoms would be tested.

EU commissioner for health Tonio Borg said: “Plant protection on EU territory is of utmost importance and the EU had no choice but to impose a stricter inspection regime… because of the high number of recent interceptions 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 South African citrus on concerns that citrus black spot could infect European crops. South Africa supplies about 70 percent of the EU’s citrus demand.

In June last year South Africa’s ambassador to Belgium, Mxolisi Nkosi, said the EU wanted to stop importing South African citrus fruit. The 27-nation bloc was increasingly using protectionism to block certain imports, he noted.

The sector contributed R6 billion to South Africa’s gross domestic product, he said.

Citrus harvesting and production in most of Europe has declined due to adverse weather conditions. Last year South Africa was the world’s biggest exporter of oranges and grapefruit.

In 1993 the EU declared citrus black spot a phytosanitary threat and it was placed on a trade watch-list at EU borders. If spotty fruit was found the consignment was impounded. This reduced the size of citrus shipments entering the EU. - Sapa