South Africa is the second-biggest exporter of citrus, just behind Spain. Image: Pixabay

Soon SA may not be able to afford to export its famous citrus

If the European Union doesn’t change its trade regulations, the citrus industry in South Africa won’t be able to afford exports.


South Africa is the second-biggest exporter of citrus, just behind Spain. Image: Pixabay

South Africa has at last launched its dispute with the European Union (EU) on trade regulations imposed on its citrus.

Documents have been delivered to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the South African government. This is in consultation with the Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) of Southern Africa.

According to Fruitnet, the EU has one month to respond to a request for consultation.

A ‘fungal disease’ on the fruit

This move from the South African government is in response to regulations implemented by the EU two years ago.

The EU imposed requirements for additional refrigeration of fruit being imported from South Africa. This is to combat incidences of Citrus Black Spot (CBS).

Citrus Black Spot is a fungal disease that leaves dark spots on the fruit.

South Africa has contested the notion that CBS affects the quality of the fruit. It argues that CBS merely causes blemishes on the skin.

There are also concerns that shipments to Europe have been misclassified as “tainted with the disease.”

“This action was initiated to find a lasting solution to the EU’s phytosanitary regulations on CBS, in order to protect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in the local citrus industry,” read a statement from South Africa’s Trade and Agriculture departments.

“The steps taken by the SA government has the support of the CGA. Citrus Black Spot is a fungal infection that can result in cosmetic blemishes on the affected fruit.”

The statement also noted that the world’s leading scientists have proved that CBS cannot pass from fruit to fruit.

Second-biggest citrus exporter

In 2023, South Africa shipped citrus worth $644 million ( to the EU. South Africa is a significant player in the global citrus market, and only second behind Spain.

The EU regulations have increased costs for South African exporters and resulted in reduced shipments.

Last year, the CGA estimated losses of over R500 million due to difficulties in accessing specialised refrigerated containers to get the fruit to the European market.

“The industry cannot afford the almost R2 billion that is needed to comply with the EU’s trade restrictive regulations,” said Thoko Didiza, the minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

If the dispute is heard in the second half of the year, it won’t affect South Africa’s 2024 export season.

Justin Chadwick, the CEO of the CGA, has highlighted the growth potential of the citrus industry.

According to Chadwick, if all industry stakeholders came together, the citrus industry would be able to produce an extra 100m cartons of fruit over the next eight years.

“This can create 100 000 more jobs and generate an additional R20bn in annual revenue, but this potential will surely be lost if the EU market narrows,” he said.

Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel noted that the EU market made up one-third of all citrus exports from South Africa.

“[The consultations] follow many years of attempts by South Africa, through good faith engagement, to find a solution to trade-restrictive measures by the EU against South African products,” Patel added.