South African citrus waits in limbo on EU market

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South African citrus waits in limbo on EU market

South African citrus has been left in doubt on the European market, following the fifth detectionof citrus black spot by EU officials in South African shipments.oranges_small

Five black spot interceptions had previously been set as the cut off point for South Africa as a citrus exporter to the European Union. No official word has been given, however, as to what the fifth detection will mean for South Africa, said Cape Citrus managing director Scott Dowle.

"As a country, we’ve had five interceptions but we haven’t had anyone officially say what will happen now that we've used all of our lives," Dowle told

"During the season everyone said that once the fifth strike was identified that the doors of entry to Europe would be closed. We've had five interceptions now but the doors are still open."

Although citrus exporters are still waiting to confirm the consequences, Dowle said he expected to finish out the rest of the season in Europe, set to last another three weeks.

"I don't think they will shut the season at this late stage considering the demand there is there and also the livelihoods that the citrus industry upholds. It's not just the end consumer. It's the transport people, the customs officials, the packers. It’s everybody that’s involved in the supply chain," he said.

With about 50 containers shipped to Europe a week, however, Dowle said the possibility of losing access to Europe would have a significant impact on the company.

"We could be stuck with 150 containers upwards of fruit that wouldn’t be allowed to enter, so it would be quite a significant problem for us," he said.

On the European end, importer Wilko van der Zwaard of WilkoFruit in the Netherlands said demand for South African citrus has been strong.

"My clients need to have oranges. If South Africa is blocked, nobody will have oranges in Europe. That is not possible," he said.

The possibility of losing South Africa has pushed van der Zwaard to consider increasing imports from Argentina and Uruguay; a change he would rather not make.

"We decided this year to focus only on South Africa to avoid problems with my clients. The quality from South Africa is much better than from Argentina. That’s a reason WilkoFruit has decided to only import from South Africa to get the best fruit," he said.

Even with customs delays of three to four days due to black spot concerns, van der Zwaard said his clients are willing to wait because they prefer South African citrus.

As South African growers look to alternative markets, Dowle said uncertainty has created slight citrus shortages in Europe this season.

"Certain growers have said, yes, they will export to Europe as long as they are sure that they haven’t got black spot on their fruit. Others have said the dollar markets are paying quite well at the moment and the exchange rate is quite favorable, so they’d rather send their fruit to the dollar-paying markets and sideline the risk of going to Europe," he said.

Risk aversion has meant more interest in the Far East, Middle East, Russia, Southeast Asia and Canada. In Cape Citrus' case, there has also been greater focus on alternative markets.

"We haven’t had any issues but we are quite focused on Europe. Probably 65% of our volume goes to Europe. For us, at the beginning of the year it was a quite a concern. We were concerned what would happen if 65% of our crop that normally goes to Europe couldn't go there. But thankfully we’ve managed it well on the South African side," he said.

"Maybe 15% -20% of the crop which we would have sent to Europe, we’ve had to send to other markets because of black spot concerns."

At the moment, Dowle said the company will simply have to wait and see South Africa's fate as a European trade partner.


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