Tons of oranges remain stacked in containers stuck in European ports as they rot amid South Africa’s trade dispute with the European Union over import rules.
South Africa, the world’s second largest citrus exporter after Spain, filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization last month after the European Union approved new sanitary requirements that growers say threaten its viability.
The new measures came into force in July when ships were transporting hundreds of containers of fruit from South Africa to Europe by sea, leading to their detention on arrival, according to the South African Citrus Growers Association.
“It’s a complete and utter disaster,” the association’s president, Justin Chadwick, told AFP. “Exceptional quality, safe food is trapped here… It really is a disaster.”
The European Union requires that oranges destined for consumption in Europe be treated with extreme cold and kept for 15 days at temperatures not exceeding 2 degrees Celsius, which is considered unnecessary by South African growers, as their country has more precise means of avoid contamination of the fruit. with parasites
South Africa states in its complaint that the EU’s demands are “not based on scientific data” but are “discriminatory” and exaggerated.
It creates additional pressure for a sector that is already facing a difficult situation. “This will incur additional costs,” said Hans de Waal, who runs the 100-year-old “Sundays River Citrus” farm in the southeast of the country. That no producer in the world can afford today.”
The income of de Val, whose farm extends over an area of more than seven thousand hectares planted with orange, clementine and lemon trees, decreased due to the increase in transport costs since the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic, as well as to the increase in fertilizer prices as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Europe is the largest market for South African citrus, valued at almost €2 billion and accounting for 37% of the country’s exports.
This sector employs more than 120,000 people in a country where unemployment affects more than a third of people.
The new rules surprised growers, especially since they were approved in the middle of the orange campaign, meaning that some 3.2 million boxes of citrus fruits, worth around 35 million euros, which were shipped from South Africa, complying with the conditions, were invalidated upon arrival. .
The South African government quickly issued new documents for shipments that met the new standards, but hundreds of containers had to be destroyed, Chadwick said.
He explained that “the system adopted in our country requires a cold treatment, but it has a limited scope and focuses on risks, while the procedure adopted by the European Union is a general procedure that includes all oranges.”
The dispute is now before the World Trade Organization, and the two parties have sixty days to negotiate a solution, otherwise the plaintiff may request the opinion of an arbitration panel.
The European Union expressed confidence that its measures would comply with World Trade Organization rules.
The objective of the new health measures, according to a spokesman for the European Commission, is to protect the Union from the “potentially significant impact on agriculture and the environment in the event of parasitic endemicity” in Europe.
Chadwick hopes “logic” will prevail and a quick solution will be found. “Our sector is under pressure. This is the year of continuity for us.”