Cases filed by SA against EU citrus measures proceed

Citrus fruit being packed for shipment abroad in the Port of Durban. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo

Citrus fruit being packed for shipment abroad in the Port of Durban. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo

Published Jun 29, 2024


Cape Town - The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been asked by South Africa to set up two panels to investigate EU citrus rules related to false codling moth (FCM) and citrus black spot (CBS).

However, the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) said they are not looking to engage in conflict with the EU.

South Africa has never taken a matter to the WTO beyond the panel stage to the dispute settlement body (DSB) procedure, so the request to create the two panels is a big step forward.

To preserve the jobs of tens of thousands of people employed in the region’s citrus industry, the government is contesting the restrictions.

Justin Chadwick, CEO of the CGA, said these processes at the WTO exist to settle matters like these when they arise. South Africa was merely asking for a fair playing field and for science to be acknowledged.

“We are deeply appreciative of the South African government’s actions,” Chadwick said.

The citrus industry in South Africa has the potential to increase the CGA’s annual exports to 260 million 15kg cartons by 2032. In 2023, they have exported 165 million cartons and in the process created 100 000 new jobs.

“Without fair and reasonable trade regulations, our sector’s growth will be severely hampered,” Chadwick said.

The country started a process that finished without any outcomes on April 15 this year, when it requested discussions with the EU regarding the CBS situation.

In July 2022, South Africa started talks on FCM, but they also ended unsatisfactorily.

On the FCM issue, a panel will now also be created. Although South Africa's request for two panels has not yet been approved by the EU, the DSB has determined that the proposed adjudication panels would be formed during its July meeting.

Nine months is normally the time frame when one may expect a DSB panel report.

This week at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, representatives of the government restated the legal foundation for their grievances.

“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 by 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.

“The goal is scientific truth and fairness, according to a joint statement issued on Thursday by the CGA, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition.

Mooketsa Ramasodi, director-general of DALRRD, said that 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 explained.

The SA 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.

The acting director-general of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, Malebo Mabitje-Thompson, clarified the government's actions at the WTO.

She 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.”

According to Dr Dirk Trosky, director of business planning and strategy at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, citrus from the whole of SA could traditionally be exported to all countries in the EU.

He said to protect their markets, Southern EU countries (the citrus-producing area of the EU) have, over the past decade, increasingly tried to use Sanitary and Phyto Sanitary (SPS) measures to prevent SA citrus from reaching the EU.

“These attempts were usually countered by the United Kingdom, one of the most important export markets for our citrus,” he explained.

“The result is that Southern EU countries' influence has increased and stricter SPS measures have been introduced on South African citrus at very short notice.”

Trosky added: “As South Africa is the second-biggest exporter of citrus, it is also not so easy to find alternative markets.

“It is important to note that the introduction of SPS measures is to be based on scientific proof and is not supposed to be of a ‘political’ or negotiable nature, such as tariffs or tariff rate quotas.”

CBS is prevalent in parts of SA and, up until now, has not occurred in the Western Cape.

Citrus farmers in the province and certain parts of the Eastern Cape have since introduced a strong voluntary protocol to ensure that this part of the country remains CBS-free.

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