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Citrus Black Spot (CBS) after Brexit


Citrus Black Spot (CBS) after Brexit

Citrus Black Spot (CBS) after Brexit

Citrus black spot (CBS) is a fungal disease that affects the rind of a citrus fruit. This causes lesions but does not result in fruit decay. The causative agent is the fungal pathogen Phyllosticta citricarpa. CBS affects the fruit, leaves and twigs of citrus, but only the fruit symptoms are readily noted. It has a significant economic impact, mainly owing to the external blemishes that make citrus fruit unsuitable for the fresh market. Premature fruit drop caused by some infections may contribute to further economic loss. CBS is classified as a quarantine pest which means that it can potentially be harmful in an area where it is not yet present. It is not present in all the citrus-growing regions of South Africa, as it is only found in more sub-tropical regions with a higher rainfall.

The fungus is not present in the European Union (EU) and its introduction into the EU is banned. Between 2011 and 2014, checks on consignments of citrus from South Africa resulted in 129 interceptions by the EU authorities. These interceptions and the risk that they could lead to a unilateral ban on South African citrus exports to the EU, has caused some tension between South Africa and the EU. South Africa has raised an issue of concern with the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Committee of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), claiming that the measures which the EU has put into place after the interceptions are not scientifically justified, lacks a technical basis and are inconsistent with the level of risk posed by CBS found on fruit that is imported into the EU. It has also initiated the first ever Phytosanitary Dispute at the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) (IPPC Dispute number 10ZAF01).

To further protect its seasonal exports of citrus to the EU, South Africa has over the last five years been operating a CBS risk management scheme (RMS), and it has put in place movement control measures between areas free of CBS (such as the Western Cape), and areas where CBS is endemic. Its RMS has been found to be in line with international standards by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) of the EU. Late in the 2020 season South Africa suspended some citrus exports to the EU in order to reduce the risk of unilateral ban. This was after the EU took such unilateral action in respect of Argentina, blocking it from sending any further part of its 2020 citrus harvest to the EU.

While all of this was happening, the United Kingdom (UK) in June 2016 voted to end its membership of the EU, including that of the EU Single Market and the EU Customs Union. After protracted negotiations, the UK finally left the EU on 31 December 2020. The UK has announced an intention to increase trade flows with countries other than the EU, amongst other things by scrapping EU import requirements it no longer deems necessary. As from 1 January 2021 the UK is now an export destination which is completely separate from the EU, and it should be noted that its correct description is not “UK”, but “GB”. The reason for this is that Northern Ireland (NI), which is politically a part of the UK, will for trade purposes be treated as part of the EU, with EU import requirements to be adhered to.

The UK updated its guidance on its import requirements for plants, plant produce and products on 31 December 2020. Under the “fruits” section it changed the status of a range of fruits, mostly produced in warmer, more tropical climates, to “not regulated”. What this means is that these fruits, which now include citrus, can now be brought into GB without a phytosanitary certificate and without advanced notification of the shipment.

The reasoning behind the UK decision is probably threefold: It does not produce the listed fruits and it could therefore feel that it has neither the plant protection needs nor the need to protect local growers, while it at the same time wants to increase trade with non-EU countries.

All of this begs a question: Is this good news for South African citrus growers? The following comments may provide some perspective:

  • The UK and the EU are now two different export destinations. In practical terms this forces South African shippers to make a final choice of destination before they ship, and removes the flexibility they previously enjoyed of shipping to the EU and then deciding on the EU entry point (UK, Ireland or the Continent) at a later stage.

  • Citrus imported into the UK will most likely stay in the UK, as re-exporting it to the Continent does not appear to be a feasible exercise, due to the huge administrative and cost burden.

  • The flexibility of moving shipments landed in the UK to the Continent (and vice versa) is also lost in terms of shipping landed shipments to Northern Ireland or Ireland.

  • Even if such shipments were still technically possible, then the recently announced divergence by the UK from the EU SPS standard will most likely make them impossible.

  • South African citrus producers in regions with CBS will still have to apply the current CBS risk management scheme and meet other EU requirements. It seems unlikely that they will cease applying these protocols in respect of fruit that could be exported to the UK, so there may be little benefit from the change in the UK rules.

  • The same is probably true for most of the EU requirements on the growing and treatment of fruit to ensure freedom from false codling moth (FCM), which were put in place after the EU in 2018 declared FCM a quarantine pest

  • There is a possibility that UK purchasers such as the major UK supermarkets may still require CBS measures or assurances on CBS, as part of their practice to enforce their own private standards on producers.

  • There is a risk that countries such as Argentina may, because of the CBS hurdles it may be facing on citrus shipments to the EU, significantly increase citrus shipments to the UK.

  • While the UK was part of Brexit, Spanish citrus producers had full access to the UK. On top of this they were protected by a seasonal import tariff applied during the latter part of the South African citrus export season. This seasonal tariff protection enjoyed by EU producers in respect of the UK now falls away, but the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) still gives the Spanish producers full access to the UK. Their shipping patterns under the new dispensation may therefore also affect the overall UK market picture going forward.

About the Author(s)

Abrie du Plessis

Abrie du Plessis studied law at the University of Stellenbosch where he completed his BA (Law) and LLB degrees. He started his career in the South African Department of Justice, but soon returned to teach mostly Private Law at the University of Stellenbosch. In 1993 he joined a South African-based multinational company as an Intellectual Property Practitioner. From 1995 his main focus was Regulatory Affairs and he spent several years in this role in South Africa before moving on to London in 2002, after which he mostly advised on various aspects of Public International Law. In 2009 he moved to Brussels with an added role relating to European Union Law.

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