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South Africa blames the EU for not growing as expected in citrus exports

South African citrus growers call the EU's phytosanitary measures for false moth and black spot "unjustified, unnecessary, discriminatory and anti-competitive" and consider that they are only intended to benefit Spain.


South African citrus fruits for export.

According to the balance of the export season of the South African Citrus Growers Association 2023, 165.1 million boxes (15 kg) of citrus fruits were packaged in the country for delivery to world markets. While this is an increase of approximately 800,000 cases over last year's packed numbers, it is still 500,000 cases less than anticipated at the beginning of the season and, more importantly, substantially below the growth curve plantation-based forecast, with a potential reach of 200 million boxes in the next 4 years, and possibly 260 million boxes by 2032. This highlights that producers continued to face a number of challenges in bringing their fruit to key markets.

By crops
This year, 1.9 million fewer boxes of grapefruit were packaged for export than in 2022. However, this is 400,000 more than estimated at the beginning of the season. The 2023 total, 14.8 million, is considerably less than the 20.3 million packaged two years ago, in 2021, continuing the downward trajectory.

Tangerine exports continue to increase substantially. This past season, 37.9 million boxes were packaged, a year-on-year increase of 6.1 million and 3.8 million more than estimated at the beginning of the season. This growth is largely due to increased plantings, as well as strong demand in the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom.

Lemons also showed an increase. Last season, 900,000 more boxes were packed, bringing the total to 35.6 million. However, this was 1.3 million cases less than the preseason estimate.

Oranges have shown a decline overall. This year, 24.7 million boxes of Navel were packaged, 3.1 million less than last year and slightly below estimates. The Valencias also registered a decrease: 1.7 million fewer boxes, with a total of 52.1 million boxes packed. This total is 2.4 million less than the original estimate.

After two extremely challenging years, in which, according to the CGA, only one in five producers turned a profit, this year's better market prices and reduced shipping costs offered some relief to many producers.

However, they continued to face a series of challenges that negatively impacted the amount of citrus they could export and their profits. These included high and sustained levels of load shedding from the electrical grid, which affected its ability to irrigate, fertilize, package and chill citrus, the latter being an essential phytosanitary requirement for many export varieties.

The overall increase in agricultural input costs continued through the 2023 season and put pressure on producers. Devastating floods in the Western Cape in June also affected farms in that province. The flood caused at least 500 million rand (about 24.5 million) in damage to citrus groves in the Citrusdal Valley.

Another major challenge was the worsening logistics crisis, which has paralyzed large segments of the country's export economy. Congestion at ports and a dysfunctional freight rail network have cost farmers dearly and are actually holding back growth opportunities for the citrus industry. The CGA continues to engage with Transnet on these issues but fully supports Transnet accelerating public-private partnerships in both ports and the rail system as a matter of urgency. In this regard, the CGA has welcomed the announcement of International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI) as the preferred bidder to develop and take over the operations of Pier 2 of the Durban Container Terminal and has already begun collaborating with the company before it takes over the terminal next year.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the industry has faced this season has been the intensification of - according to the CGA - "unjustified phytosanitary regulations imposed on our producers by the European Union (EU). Taken together, the unnecessary protocols and proactive measures against citrus black spot (CBS) and false codling moth (FCM) are costing the local citrus industry R3.7 billion a year (approximately 181.3 million)". The CGA is working with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALLRD) of the South African Government to fight against these "discriminatory and anti-competitive regulations that are intended solely to benefit European citrus producers like Spain", expose from the South African Citrus Growers Association, and affirm that "the regulations resulted in a continuous decrease in orange exports to the EU. Looking ahead to the 2024 season, stricter control measures or the closure of the EU market "EU will almost certainly devastate entire farming communities across South Africa," the CGA remains "committed to working with the government to overcome these serious threats to the sustainability and profitability of the industry and the 140,000 jobs it supports. Jobs South Africans must defend themselves at the level of the World Trade Organization (WTO) through urgent action. The convening of a WTO panel on the FCM regulations and consultations called on the CBS regulations should be declared," they defend.

Finally, the slowness to ensure greater access to key markets such as the United States, India, Vietnam, Japan and Thailand, in order to absorb the increase in fruit production, poses a real risk for the industry.

Furthermore, the producers' association predicts that "if all relevant actors and stakeholders addressed the challenges related to electricity supply, input costs, logistics, unfair trade regulations and barriers blocking market expansion, The citrus industry could easily meet its target of creating another 100,000 jobs and generate an additional R20 billion (980.5 million) in annual revenue by 2032. This would bring its total contribution to 240,000 jobs and R50 billion (approximately 2,451.5 million) in revenue."

The CGA also thanks its members for their "hard work during 2023. We remain committed to continuing to work with the government, unions and various private sector actors to ensure that South African citrus, the second largest citrus exporter in the world, continues to be an important contributor to the economy."

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