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SA lodges WTO dispute to tackle EU measures that threaten citrus imports

This crisis threatens the sustainability and profitability of local growers and the 140 000 jobs.Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

This crisis threatens the sustainability and profitability of local growers and the 140 000 jobs.Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Published Jul 28, 2022


THE South African government has lodged a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute, requesting consultation to address European Union (EU) measures affecting local citrus imports, the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) said today.

Justin Chadwick, the chief executive of CGA, said on July 22, the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations and other international organisations wrote to Joao Aguiar Machado, Ambassador of the EU to the WTO in Geneva to request consultations with the EU concerning the new regime governing the importation of citrus fruit from South Africa.

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In June, the EU Standing Committee on Plant, Animal, Food and Feed (Scopaff) published what the industry called drastic and arguably misinformed new regulations, requiring the cold treatment for oranges heading to the region as a means to address False Codling Moth (FCM) interceptions from Southern African orange exports.

This was said to be despite numerous objections from several other countries, including European markets that currently import South African oranges. These new regulations were published in the Official Journal of the EU, with an implementation date of July 14.

CGA said the fact that EU authorities attempted to enforce these new regulations a mere 23 days after publication made it impossible for South African growers to ensure their compliance and highlighted how unjustified and discriminatory this legislation was, with devastating consequences to the local citrus industry.

In terms of WTO agreements, members agreed not to discriminate among imports from different origins, not to impose sanitary and technical barriers to trade that were discriminatory and not based on international standards or on sound scientific evidence.

The citrus organisation said it was clear that the EU’s protectionist FCM import measures against South Africa violate these conditions. In its request for consultations, South Africa is said to have identified 21 inconsistencies in the new proposed phytosanitary measures, against the guidelines of the WTO Agreement, which the EU was obligated to adhere to.

Chadwick said these transgressions had already impacted an estimated 3.2 million cartons of citrus valued at R605 million, with reports of hundreds of containers of South African citrus being detained by authorities in the EU on arrival.

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Without immediate political intervention, the threat remained that these consignments would be destroyed by EU authorities.

The local industry was still of the view that the cold treatment prescribed within the new regulations was contrary to scientific evidence, making it an arbitrary and unnecessarily trade restrictive measure and accordingly contravenes international requirements for such phytosanitary trade regulations.

The CGA said it understands that the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), as well as national government, undertook a number of efforts to resolve this matter over a period of several weeks.

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"We are aware that the process of seeking a WTO consultation was actioned when it became evident that other avenues would not prove successful to address the issue. The CGA welcomes the move by the DTIC for the lodging of this dispute and elevating it to a multilateral level," Chadwick said.

This crisis not only threatened the sustainability and profitability of local growers and the 140 000 jobs the industry sustains locally but would also result in less and more expensive citrus in European supermarkets.

The sector said it simply could not allow what was clearly nothing more than a politically motivated move by the Spanish to decimate the businesses of thousands of local growers and the livelihoods they support while threatening the destruction of millions of cartons of top-quality fruit by EU authorities.

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The CGA said it would continue to work with all government and industry stakeholders to address this issue with the degree of urgency it required and hopes to ensure all top-quality citrus exports to the EU were received and welcomed over its borders.