SA asks World Trade Organisation to resolve citrus dispute with the EU

SA requests consultations with EU on the phytosanitary trade regulations imposed on the country by the EU. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

SA requests consultations with EU on the phytosanitary trade regulations imposed on the country by the EU. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Apr 17, 2024


South Africa has initiated a dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in relation to phytosanitary trade regulations imposed on the country’s citrus by the European Union (EU).

This was announced by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (Dalrrd) and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition on Monday evening.

SA said this action was initiated to find a lasting solution to the EU's phytosanitary regulations on Citrus Black Spot (CBS), in order to protect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in the local citrus industry.

CBS is a fungal infection that could result in cosmetic blemishes on the affected fruit.

Despite the world’s leading scientists proving that CBS cannot be transmitted through the actual fruit as a pathway, the EU has continued to enforce measures on South African citrus growers.

These involved a detailed spray programme and inspections at orchard and packhouse level with significant financial burden and other unintended consequences for the South African Industry.

Agriculture minister Thoko Didiza also highlighted the importance of jobs in the citrus industry.

“Rural economies throughout the country depend on the export of citrus for their income. Currently, the industry cannot afford the almost R2 billion that is needed to comply with the EU’s trade restrictive regulations,” Didiza said.

Earlier this month, the Citrus Growers' Association of Southern Africa (CGA) said it hoped the government would soon call for the establishment of an independent WTO panel that could adjudicate on the False Codling Moth (FCM) matter, given the high stakes involved.

The CGA CEO Justin Chadwick said it was essential that the government called for a WTO consultation process.

Chadwick said the industry welcomed the government's actions, adding that the industry was hoping for efficient resolution of the matter in view that the consultations were initiated as this year's citrus export season commenced.

“Projections show that if all industry stakeholders come together, the industry will be able to produce an additional 100 million 15kg cartons over the next eight years,” Chadwick said.

“This can create 100 000 more jobs and generate an additional R20 billion in annual revenue, but this potential will surely be lost if the EU market narrows.“

Overall, an increase in export volume was expected bearing testament to the resilience of South African citrus growers, producing more citrus under challenging circumstances, such as steep increases in input costs, load shedding and deteriorating public infrastructure.

Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel also stressed that the EU market made up one-third of all citrus exports from South Africa, and was central to the profitability of the citrus industry.

“The EU's volumes cannot be absorbed by other markets. The consultations are a critical step in the WTO towards effective resolution of South Africa’s concerns,” Patel said.

“This follows many years of attempts by South Africa, through good faith engagement, to find a solution to trade-restrictive measures by the EU against South African products. It is our view that the measures by the EU are not justified, proportionate or appropriate.”