SA takes citrus dispute a step further at WTO

Last year South Africa exported 36% of its citrus to the EU. Picture: Zanele Zulu/Independent Newspapers

Last year South Africa exported 36% of its citrus to the EU. Picture: Zanele Zulu/Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 27, 2024


SOUTH Africa has asked the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to establish two panels to probe EU Citrus Black Spot (CBS) and False Codling Moth (FCM) citrus regulations, which it says “are unscientific and discriminatory".

This is according to a joint statement released yesterday by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGA).

The request to establish the two panels is a significant development. This is the first time that South Africa has progressed a dispute at the WTO beyond the panel state of the established Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) process.

The regulations are being challenged by the South African government to protect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in the local citrus industry.

Justin Chadwick, the CEO of the CGA, said: "Last year we exported 36% of all our citrus to the EU. That shows what an important market it is for our growers. It is the very foundation of citrus profitability in South Africa.

“Should the EU continue with the implementation of these measures, or intensify them in any way, the profitability of hundreds of growers will be negatively affected and the industry will suffer severe revenue and job losses.

“But this is also potentially good news for the European consumer. Their orange prices last summer were at an all-time high. However, if their supply is unfettered, consumers will benefit," Chadwick said.

On April 15, South Africa requested consultations with the EU on the CBS matter, which initiated a process that has ended without any results. The country initiated consultations on FCM in July 2022, with no satisfactory conclusion as well.

A panel will now also be formed on the FCM matter. While the EU has not accepted South Africa’s request for the two panels at this point, the set DSB procedure is that the requested adjudication panels will be established at its next meeting in July. A DSB panel report can usually be expected after nine months.

The government's representatives reiterated the legal basis of their complaints at the WTO headquarters in Geneva this week. These included the following arguments:

– The measures are not based on scientific principles and are maintained without sufficient scientific evidence.

– The measures are applied in a manner that is not in accordance with the provisions of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, of which the EU is a signatory.

– The EU fails to apply the measures in a uniform, impartial and reasonable manner.

– The measures are more trade-restrictive than required to achieve protection, and there are reasonably available alternatives which are technically and economically feasible that would achieve protection in a significantly less trade-restrictive manner.

Mooketsa Ramasodi, director-general of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, said the citrus industry supported 140 000 jobs at the farm level alone.

“The government is acting to safeguard these livelihoods and the central role the citrus industry plays in so many of our rural communities,” Ramasodi said.

Malebo Mabitje-Thompson, acting director-general at the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, said: “The EU’s measures on CBS and FCM are not justified, proportionate or appropriate. It must be understood, however, that the WTO process is not confrontational or aggressive. The goal is scientific truth and fairness.

“We are making use of the WTO mechanisms available to us to find an amicable solution.”

The South African citrus industry is currently entering its peak export season with oranges heading to the ports. It is estimated that South Africa will export a total of 170 million 15kg cartons this year.