No decision on SA citrus imports: EU

No decision has yet been taken about citrus imports from South Africa, the European Commission said on Wednesday (30/04/2014).

"The standing committee on plant health [SCPH] will not take a decision today on imports of citrus from South Africa," commission spokesman Frédéric Vincent said in an e-mail to Sapa.

The commission met on Wednesday and decided that more time was needed for discussions.

"It has been decided to prolong the discussions with the member states in order to find a suitable agreement in the very near future, possibly next month," he said.

Earlier, South Africa's agriculture department dismissed reports that the EU was considering dropping a ban on importing South African citrus fruit, saying there was no ban.

"In our understanding, there has never been a ban on SA citrus exports to the EU," spokeswoman Palesa Mokomele said in an e-mail to Sapa.

She said the SCPH had been discussing the strengthened EU phyto-sanitary measures over the past few weeks. One of the discussion points was the revised measures for South Africa's citrus products entering the EU.

Mokomele said South Africa had always maintained that although it differed with the EU on the risk of the citrus black spot (CBS) disease, it would continue to work with authorities to comply with EU conditions.

"At the moment we do not have official communication of what the revised measures would be, we're expecting to be informed of such as soon a decision is reached by the SCPH," she said.

On Wednesday, several newspapers reported that the EU proposed lifting a ban on importing South African citrus fruit.

In November, the EU stopped importing citrus fruit from South Africa as there were concerns that CBS could infect local crops.

About 70 percent of the EU's citrus consumption comes from South Africa.

In June, South Africa's ambassador to Belgium Mxolisi Nkosi told Sapa the EU wanted to stop importing citrus fruit from South Africa. He said the EU was increasingly using protectionism to block certain imports. The citrus sector contributed about R6 billion to South Africa's gross domestic product, he said at the time.

Citrus harvesting and production in most of Europe has declined due to weather conditions. In 2013, South Africa was the world's biggest exporter of oranges and the largest shipper of grapefruit.

In 1993 the EU declared CBS a phyto-sanitary measure. This meant it was placed on a trade watch-list at EU borders. If spotty fruit was found the consignment would be impounded. This reduced the size of citrus shipments entering the EU. - Sapa