Mzansi’s first citrus batch to Philippines will be off soon

It took more than a decade, but South Africa’s citrus growers finally have more reason to smile. Any day now, our first shipment of delicious citrus will make its way to the Philippines. Exporters are packed and just awaiting the final green light

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After 12 years of hard-bargaining and negotiations, citrus produced in South Africa can finally be distributed into Philippine markets. In fact, any day now our first shipment will be off to the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

This was confirmed by Justin Chadwick, the chief executive of the Citrus Growers’ Association. In 2019, the United States accounted for 24% of the total agricultural imports of the south-east Asian country, followed by the European Union with 13%. The new agreement is therefore a big win for Mzansi.

Insiders say it follows years of intense and sometimes even unfruitful discussions between South Africa’s citrus industry and the Manila-based Bureau for Plant and Industry (BPI).

While it took a long time to reach an agreement, Chadwick, however, does not believe that it was unusually lengthy. “Exporters from South Africa and importers in the Philippines are looking forward to the first shipments of South African citrus in 2021 after the conclusion of a protocol in 2020.”  

New market teething problems

Initially, Mzansi’s citrus industry was hoping for the first consignment to be shipped to the Philippines early in May. This was, unfortunately, delayed by because importers were struggling to obtain import permits.

As with any new market, there are always initiating issues, Chadwick says. In the case of the Philippines, it was been getting the lists of production units and exporters accepted by the BPI.

Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association and chairperson of Fruit SA’s board. Photo: CGA
Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association and chairperson of Fruit SA’s board. Photo: Supplied/CGA
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“It is great that we got access, but then there are still additional things that need to be put in place for the fruit to actually flow. There are lists that had to be supplied by the department of agriculture to the Philippine authorities,” Chadwick says.

He further explains the process was held up due to uncertainty about what lists (of farms, pack houses and export agents) were needed by Philippine authorities.

“We would send two lists and then they would want another list with physical addresses of all parties involved. These are, however, normal teething problems in accessing a new market.”

Final next steps

From what Mzansi understands, Philippine authorities now have everything they need in their possession. The next step requires Philippine importers to apply for permits so that the first citrus consignments can be processed.

Chadwick says, “We’ve been in conversation with the importers. We understand that they are still battling a little bit because they need to be very precise in their application for the permit.”

The citrus industry is hopeful that these “teething problems” will be sorted soon.

According to Chadwick, South African exporters are very keen to service this market. Most of them are packed and already have citrus fruit for the Philippine market in cold stores. “It’s just a case of the importer indicating that they have their permit and then our department will sign off on those consignments.”

ALSO READ: From fruit hawker to citrus farmer

Export frustration in Indonesia

In other export-related news, the citrus industry has reported some irritations in early-season exports to China and Indonesia.  

According to Chadwick, countries that trade with Indonesia have a big advantage should they conclude a mutual country agreement (MCA). This allows exporters to discharge in the port at Jakarta and recognises food safety certification from the country of origin. The agreement is valid for three years.  

“South Africa had an MCA from 2018 which expired in April 2021. Despite a timeous application for renewal and lodging of all the documents, the MCA lapsed without a renewal being granted. This was of great concern to those wanting to export to Indonesia,”  Chadwick says.

The good news, however, is that South Africa has concluded the MCA with Indonesia for a further three years.  

Meanwhile, the 2021 list of registered production units and approved food business operators who export to China, have not been cleared due to unforeseen delays.  

The Chinese market is only open to those who were registered and approved by China in 2020. Processes are in place to get this resolved, and to get 2021 approvals finalised.

“Although the requirements for 2021 approval by China make no sense, the departments of agriculture and trade and industry are busy fulfilling these requirements and hope to have all the actions completed without too much delay,” Chadwick says.  

Lower export estimates

Chadwick reports they are predicting a lower export volume for 2021. Estimates have moved down from 30.5 million to 29.4 million cartons.

This is due to rain disruption and uncertainty about new plantings by Senwes, and ongoing dry conditions in Patensie in the Eastern Cape.

“During April, the grapefruit and soft citrus focus groups met and agreed that there was no need to change the predicted volume for now,” says Chadwick.

ALSO READ: Farmers warned about devastating citrus disease

Meanwhile, citrus grown in the Western and Northern Cape are expected to arrive in the US around 20 June 2021.

The first reefer vessel of the season is expected to leave the Cape Town by the end of the week. It is reported to be the first of a series of vessels that will sail directly from Cape Town to the American East Coast until the season concludes in October.

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