The organisation representing Spanish citrus fruit growers has entered into the row over the importing of South African produce into the EU.

Last week, South Africa’s government said it had requested consultations with the EU at the WTO in relation to phytosanitary trade regulations imposed on its citrus exports that centre on citrus black spot (CBS), a fungal infection that affects citrus fruit.

But now Spain’s Citrus Management Committee (CGC) has entered the fray, accusing South Africa of using “threats and blackmail” towards the EU.

South Africa is unhappy that the EU, a major market for its citrus fruit,
enforces measures on the country’s citrus growers, including a detailed spray programme and inspections at orchards and packhouses. The South African government says the precautions are unnecessary and impose significant financial burdens for its citrus industry.

However, the CGC argued that the fruit is a “scientifically proven means of contagion”.

In a statement, it said: “The necrotic lesions generated by the disease prevent citrus fruit from being marketed fresh due to severe loss of yield and quality, and is therefore considered the most serious fungal pathogen.”

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The CGC said the idea that the infection cannot be transmitted through fruit is “either a half-truth or an outright falsehood”.

It added: “This is blackmail, a threatening and dissuasive action to stop the [European] Commission from requiring the effective fungicides they should already be using.”

Inmaculada Sanfeliu, president of the CGC, which has clashed with the South African citrus fruit industry in the past, said: “The problem is not the regulations, it is their repeated non-compliance.”

In its statement last week revealing its intervention request for the Switzerland-based WTO, which deals with the rules of trade between nations, the South African government said: “This action was initiated to find a lasting solution to the EU’s phytosanitary regulations on citrus black spot in order to protect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in the local citrus industry.”

In response, Olof Gill, a spokesperson for trade and agriculture at the European Commission told Just Food: “The EU regrets that South Africa has chosen to pursue WTO consultations regarding this matter.

“The EU will study the request for consultations and will enter into consultations in good faith with South Africa. The EU is confident that its legislation is in full compliance with its obligations under WTO.”