EU Farmers Continue Campaign for Stricter EU Citrus Black Spot Controls


EU farmers organizations continue to push for stricter SPS controls on citrus imports including the mandatory use of cold treatment. The South African citrus industry believes such a requirement would be an economic disaster for the industry. In the context of the Spanish citrus industry’s pressure for stricter EU SPS controls, the UK’s departure from the EU could offer a life line for the South African citrus industry. If SPS controls not relevant to UK agricultural production were lifted and duty free-quota free access to the UK market could be secured in line with the South African government’s current aspirations for post-Brexit trade relations with the UK, then less restrictive market access requirements would apply potentially opening up additional export opportunities to the UK market.

In July 2017 the EU farmers organization Copa-Cocega continued its campaign to enlist the support of MEPs for stricter Citrus Black Spot (CBS) controls on imports of fresh citrus fruit. The campaign enjoys strong support from Spanish MEPs given the Spanish citrus industry’s keen interest in this issue. A motion for resolution calling for stricter controls has already been approved by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee and will now go to plenary (1).

Copa-Cocega accuses the European Commission of attempting to ‘weaken border controls on citrus fruit imports coming into the EU…destined for processing’. EC farmers are calling for the use of cold treatment to control the possible spread of CBS (1).

The debate in the European Parliament comes against the background of the adoption of stricter import control requirements for citrus imports from Argentina given the increased incidence of citrus black spot detections on imports from Argentina (2). It also comes against the background of the first discovery in June 2017 of False Coddling Moth (FCM) in consignments of citrus fruit arriving in the EU (France), with five interceptions now having been recorded (3).

The Citrus Growers Association (CGA) of Southern Africa described this as ‘highly disappointing’, given the efforts put into avoiding the dispatch of any infested consignments. The interceptions were attributed to some exporters not following industry-wide protocols, with the CGA no launching an investigation to ensure no further infested consignments are shipped to the EU (3).

However the CGA welcomed the fact that to date, there had not been a single interception of CBS infected fruit in this seasons export trade into the EU.  This was attributed to sustained industry wide efforts; although it was noted August to October is in fact the high risk season for CBS infections (3).

Looking to the future the EU has announced FCM will be a notifiable disease from the 1st January 2018.  This will require the South African citrus industry to finalise an effective risk management system in time for the start of the 2018 export season (8).

The incidence of FCM is seen by Spanish citrus producers as a further justification for why all imports should be subject to mandatory cold treatment.  However according to the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa the cost and logistical requirements of cold treatment measures ‘would imply a total disaster for the South African citrus industry’ (3).

As a consequence the South African citrus industry is developing a risk management system based on ‘a combination of spraying, disrupting insect mating cycles using Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), monitoring orchards and inspecting fruit after it is packed’. The CGA is confident it will be able to demonstrate to the EC the ability of South African citrus exporters to ‘send consignments that are free of FCM’, without any need for mandatory cold treatment. Once the risk management system has been finalised it will be duly notified to the EC (8).

Comment and Analysis

With the continuing threat of stricter EU SPS controls on imports of South African citrus the UK’s departure from the EU could offer the South African industry a safety net. Once the UK is no longer a part of the EU single market and customs union the UK government will be free to adjust its SPS regime in line with UK agricultural and consumer requirements. Since the UK has no domestic citrus production, CBS infections are not sources of SPS concern on products imported solely for use in the UK and hence will no longer need to be governed by strict pan-EU SPS rules.

In 2015 by value direct exports to the UK accounted for 25.5% of overall South African citrus exports to the EU. For some citrus products however the UK market was far more important, taking fully 61.1% of South African mandarin exports and 33.7% of South African lemon exports to the EU. In 2016 however the importance of the UK market across all categories in value terms declined (partly linked to the devaluation of the £ in the context of pre-negotiated contracts).

However in addition to this direct trade there may well be some indirect imports via the Netherlands, which in 2015 supplied some 11% of UK grapefruit imports (4), 7% of UK lemon and lime imports (5), 3.7% of UK orange imports (6) and 1.5% of UK mandarins and hybrid imports (7).  This needs to be seen in a context where 57.5% of South Africa’s grapefruit exports to the EU; 41.3% of its lemon exports; 3.7% of its orange exports and 30.1% its mandarin exports go to the Netherlands.

South African Total Citrus Exports to the EU by product and the importance of the UK and Dutch markets

2015 2016
EU UK Holland EU UK Holland
Citrus fruit – 0805 of which: 548,981,792 25.5% 46.7% 600,972,384 19.3% 49.1%
– oranges 080510 306,251,244 15.2% 50.4% 281,701,275 13.6% 51.0%
– mandarins 080520 108,559,989 61.1% 30.1% 143,584,955 51.9% 35.4%
– grapefruits – 080540 77,930,994 10.9% 57.5% 82,603,434 8.2% 65.7%
– lemons – 080550 55,376,586 33.7% 41.3% 96,880,672 27.3% 47.1%

Source: EC, Market Access Data Base,

There would thus appear to be considerable scope for expansion of South African citrus exports to the UK, if duty free-quota free access to the post-Brexit UK market can be secured and a more relaxed UK SPS regime for citrus imports is set in place.  This would be particularly the case if no UK-EU27 trade agreement were in place in the immediate post-Brexit period and ‘inherited’ MFN import duties were applied to citrus imports from the EU27. In 2015 Spain accounted for 42% of UK orange imports, 49% of UK mandarin imports and 45% of UK lemon and lime imports.

However, this being noted this assumes the UK authorities will be able to get to grips with the legal entrenchment of existing EU Regulations governing food imports before the EU’s formal departure from the EU (see companion articles ‘Salient points for the ACP from a review of legal implications for the agro-food sector or Brexit’, 21 July 2017 and ‘UK Food policy Academics Warn of Serious Brexit Complications for UK Agro-food Sector’, 11 August 2017).

(1), ‘Copa & Cogeca urges EU to protect citrus industry from black spot’, 13 July 2017
(2) Health and Food Safety Directorate General, ‘Emergency measures for the import of citrus fruit from Argentina’, 8 May 2017
(3), ‘EU makes five pest detections in South African citrus during June’, July 14, 2017
(4) OEC, ‘Where does the United Kingdom import Grapefruit, fresh or dried from? (2015)’
(5) OEC, ‘Where does the United Kingdom import lemon and lime, fresh or dried from? (2015)’
(6) OEC, ‘Where does the United Kingdom import oranges, fresh or dried from? (2015)’
(7) OEC, ‘Where does the United Kingdom import mandarins and hybrids, fresh or dried from? (2015)’
(8), ‘FCM a “different ball game” to CBS for South African citrus industry’, 23 August 2017

Key words:            Citrus SPS, CBS, FCM
Area for Posting:   Horticulture, SPS,  BREXIT