May 23. 2024. 8:18

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South Africa challenges EU at WTO over restrictions on citrus fruit trade

South Africa, the world’s second-largest citrus exporter in the world after Spain, has launched a dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over the EU’s phytosanitary trade rules, which it said were not justified or appropriate.

Pretoria has requested consultations with the EU over rules aimed at preventing the citrus black spot (CBS), a fungal disease that can cause blemishes on fruit but poses no risk to humans, from entering the bloc.

According to a press release issued by the South African Department of Trade on Tuesday (16 April), the bloc’s plant health rules impose “a significant financial burden” on the South African citrus industry.

“[The WTO dispute] follows many years of attempts (…) to find a solution to trade-restrictive measures by the EU,” said South African Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel, adding that the bloc’s rules were “not justified, proportionate or appropriate”.

Two years ago, the EU imposed an enhanced cold treatment on citrus from South Africa, to prevent the introduction of the pest in the bloc’s territory, in a move that local South African growers said threatened thousands of jobs.

EU spokesperson for trade and agriculture Olof Gill confirmed to Euractiv that the request for consultations had been received and said the EU regretted that South Africa had chosen this path.

The EU now has ten days to respond to the request and then must enter into consultations within a month. If no agreement is reached at this stage, the case will be referred to an independent panel.

This is the second WTO case South Africa has brought against the bloc. The first, which started in 2022 and is still pending, also concerned the EU’s citrus import rules.

Divided over risks

South African citrus growers say the phytosanitary rules imposed by the EU are disproportionate because science has confirmed that fruit cannot be a pathway for the transmission of the CBS fungus.

“We have had to spend up to 2 billion rand [about €99 million] per year on compliance costs for a cosmetic issue on the fruit,” Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGA), told Euractiv.

But EU growers say otherwise.

According to AVA-ASAJA, which represents farmers in Valencia – one of the main citrus-growing areas in Spain – the EU’s food authority EFSA has concluded that CBS can be transmitted by the fruit and can easily adapt to the Mediterranean climate.

For La Unió, from the same region, the entry of Phyllosticta citricarpa – the fungus causing CBS – into the bloc would increase production costs for EU producers, who would have to increase field treatments while being bound by strict legislation on the use of phytosanitary products.

“We would not have enough tools to control the disease,” Carles Peris, secretary general of La Unió, told Euractiv.

According to Peris, the cosmetic damage to the fruit is no small matter either.

“Citrus production in the EU is mainly oriented to the sale of fresh fruit,” Peris said, adding that black spots on produce would threaten sales.

Read more with Euractiv

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