Hundreds of containers of South African citrus are reportedly being held in European ports and not released to market, and South Africa has lodged a dispute with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) about the EU’s “discriminatory” new import rules.
Food For Mzansi reported in June that, despite all efforts by the local citrus industry to convince them otherwise, EU representatives approved new shipping rules that could keep South African oranges from reaching European consumers.
In a follow-up on 12 July, Food For Mzansi reported that, due to the mid-shipment publication of the new rules, 3.2 million cartons of citrus valued at R605 million could be destroyed when they arrived in Europe.
This week, reports reached South African growers that the first shipments have indeed been held back by port authorities.
According to Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa (CGA), the South African department of trade, industry and competition (DTIC) tried for several weeks to resolve the matter.
The South African government then approached the WTO when it became clear that all other attempts have failed. “The CGA welcomes the move by the DTIC for the lodging of this dispute and elevating it to a multilateral level,” Chadwick says.
‘In contravention of WTO agreements’
Local growers believe the “drastic and arguably misinformed” new regulations by the EU Standing Committee on Plant, Animal, Food and Feed (SCOPAFF) – seemingly to prevent false codling moth (FCM) from reaching Euope – are not based on sound scientific evidence and merely an attempt by Spanish growers to block South African oranges from competing in the European market.
“The local industry is still of the view that the [new] cold treatment is contrary to scientific evidence, making it an arbitrary and unnecessarily trade-restrictive measure and accordingly contravenes international requirements for such phytosanitary trade regulations,” Chadwick says.
He cites WTO agreements not to discriminate among imports from different origins, not to impose sanitary and technical barriers to trade that are discriminatory and not based on international standards or on sound scientific evidence.
“It is clear that the EU’s protectionist FCM import measures against South Africa violate these conditions. In its request for consultations, South Africa identified 21 inconsistencies in the new proposed phytosanitary measures, against the guidelines of the WTO Agreement, which the EU is obligated to adhere to.”
Chadwick says the fact that EU authorities attempted to enforce the new regulations a mere 23 days after publication made it impossible for South African growers to ensure their compliance, and “highlights how unjustified and discriminatory this legislation is, with devastating consequences to our local citrus industry”.
He says without immediate political intervention, the threat remains that consignments already in or headed to Europe will be destroyed.
“The CGA will continue to work with all government and industry stakeholders to address this issue with the degree of urgency it requires and hopes to ensure all top-quality citrus exports to the EU are received and welcomed over its borders.”
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