File picture: Reuters

Johannesburg - Europe’s stricter import requirements for South African citrus fruit were unfair as the country had been singled out for special treatment, the SA Citrus Growers Association said yesterday.

The cost of compliance with measures to control citrus black spot was also economically unsustainable, the association added.

According to the measures introduced this week by the European Commission, 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 on-site inspections at orchards.

South African authorities must sample 600 fruits out of every 30 tons of citrus. All fruit showing symptoms of citrus black spot must be tested.

The stricter regime was decided on by experts from member states on the EU’s standing committee on plant health.

In November last year, the EU stopped importing South African citrus on concerns that citrus black spot could infect European crops.

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 border controls.”

South Africa supplies about 70 percent of the EU’s citrus demand. The industry generates R8 billion revenue a year and employs about 120 000 people.

SA Citrus Growers’ Association chief executive Justin Chadwick said yesterday that although the decision brought certainty to the industry, the requirements were onerous.

“The biggest impact would be in the orchards where there is a requirement of testing fruit, which is new. This will require quite a lot of capacity from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which will have to do the testing,” he said.

Chadwick said the department would need to employ more personnel for this purpose and there were costs associated with these tests.

“The South African industry has gone to great lengths and excessive cost to demonstrate its commitment and respect towards the European position on citrus black spot. This included testing regimes and a comprehensive risk management process.

“This is simply not economically sustainable nor fair as South Africa has been singled out for special treatment by the EU in this regard,” Chadwick said.

He said the association had called on new Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana to prioritise the swift and amicable resolution of the citrus black spot dispute with the EU. - Business Report