Uruguayan citrus growers gear up for higher EU duties, full U.S. season

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Uruguayan citrus growers gear up for higher EU duties, full U.S. season

The Uruguayan citrus industry expects a 15-20% rise in its harvest this coming season, but exporters will have to overcome an uptick in tariffs to access the European Union.

Marta Betancur

Marta Betancur

During Fruit Logistica in Berlin last week, Marta Bentancur of Uruguay’s Fruit Producers and Exporters Union (UPEFRUY) told www.freshfruitportal.com the increase in volumes is due to a recovery from frosts that hit the country two years ago.

"Europe is our main market with 70% of the exported fruit, and with that we have good news on one side and bad news elsewhere," she said.

"The good news is that it looks like we will have a good crop for citrus; lemons mainly as it seems there will be a shortage in the market due to lower supply caused by climatic issues in Argentina, for example.

"But we also have a handicap that Uruguay, and Argentina too, we will have a 16% tariff duty with this harvest."

She said the rate used to be 12% because of the European Commission's (EC) Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), but sensitive items such a citrus have been removed from the GSP list.

"This does not put us in a competitive position with other supplying countries like South Africa, Chile and Peru, who have zero percent due to bilateral agreements with the European Union.

"Uruguay resumed negotiations with the European Union through Mercosur (Southern Common Market), and we expect that we can can negotiate a reduction in our tariffs to zero from that so we can operate under the same conditions."

While the quality, sizing and potential volume of the crop has looked good so far, Betancur emphasized the country had witnessed unusual torrential rain and storms in recent weeks that may have an impact.

"There could be some things that change the situation, but we are optimistic that there will be a good harvest," she said.

Betancur is also optimistic for the U.S. market, where the industry gained access last year and was able to send some of its late harvest.

"This year is different, because we will start now in May with mandarin easy peeler varieties and Navel oranges. We are very enthusiastic about that.

"There won’t be large volumes but we are going to try all the varieties for the United States.

"We could also say that we have had "pressure", in inverted commas, from citrus importers in the U.S. who want Uruguayan fruit."

When asked about South Africa's difficulties in Europe with rules surrounding citrus black spot (CBS) disease, Betancur said she supported the South African industry, not just out of solidarity but because of the validity of scientific studies that show there is no risk of infection from fruit shipped with CBS symptoms.

"European Union still has not defined what it will do about the black spot issue from South Africa, but I hope there can be a solution. It is not just that we support South Africa but the science.

"In any case it seems this will take a long time, and we suppose that South Africa will put a lot of fruit into the United States and Russia, considering the risk they have of getting five interceptions and losing the market."


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