More Proactive Role Emerging for EC in Promoting Common Application of EU SPS Measures?

Spanish pressure for the harmonised implementation of SPS controls across appears to be bearing some fruit, with an EC audit underway of SPS control systems at the main EU port of entry for South Africa citrus, Rotterdam. The Spanish industry is seeking to use new stricter EU FCM controls to ensure commercially damaging cold store treatment protocols are set in place, despite sustained South African efforts to combat both CBS and FCM. The ACP collectively needs to seek assurances form the EU Council that:

  1. SPS measures will not be used as a new form of protectionism;
  2. The EU remains committed to ensuring SPS measures are minimally trade distorting;
  3. The design and implementation of EU SPS measures will take account of the need of smallholder producers for low cost systems of compliance attainment and verification.

In September 2017 the EC announced ‘it will send its officials in September to audit the phytosanitary inspection processes carried out in Dutch ports on the citrus fruit cargoes from South Africa’, In order to assess the controls on Thaumatotibia Leucotreta pest (False codling moth). This follows complaints from the Spanish citrus fruit sector that current control measures ‘are clearly insufficient’ (1).

In recent years the Netherlands has become an increasingly important point of entry for South African citrus exports to the EU.  During the first months of the South African citrus export season in 2017, 80% of exports landed in the Netherlands compared to 54% in the corresponding period in 2016. During this period there were no interceptions in Rotterdam of consignments infested with False codling moth (FCM), while on a much smaller volume exported to France ‘5 interceptions of the pest were reported’ (1).

The table below shows that in the longer term only a small increase in landings in the Netherlands has occurred, increasing from 46.2% of total exports to the EU in 2011 to 49.9% in 2016. This is large part accounted for by the 99.3% reduction in consignments unloaded in Spanish ports.

South African Exports of Citrus to the EU by Main Country of Landing

2011 % 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 % Increase
EU total 539,216   583,406 645,223 579,028 655,177 673,671   +24.9%
Netherlands 249,072 46.2% 263,179 305,013 270,973 313,288 336,066 49.9% +34.9%
UK 126,045 23.4% 133,216 140,953 133,246 146,208 145,031 21.5% +15.1%
Portugal 32,932 6.1% 42,565 44,070 43,811 59,000 67,494 10.0% +104.9%
Italy 43,125 8.0% 43,471 48,480 48,825 51,057 49,082 7.3% +13.8%
France 20,391 3.8% 26,465 29,117 23,749 31,234 18,494 2.7% -9.3%
Spain 13,708 2.5% 23,863 19,439 12,093 24 96 0.01% -99.3%
Other EU countries 46,916 8.7% 50,647 58,151 46,331 54,414 57,408 8.5%

Source: EC, Market Access Data Base

The Spanish citrus industry is insisting that cold treatment should be applied to all imported consignments of citrus fruit during transit, in order to ensure any infestation of FCM are wiped out before they can enter the EU. The Spanish citrus industry insists such cold treatment protocols would be consistent with current international practice.

There is nominally a deep concern in the Spanish citrus industry that the trade in citrus fruit could lead to the introduction of FCM, with the industry maintaining ‘there is no doubt about the moth’s capacity to adapt perfectly to the Mediterranean climate’.

In terms of the South African citrus industry’s response to the pending stricter FCM regulation (which establishes FCM as a regulated pest subject to specific surveillance requirements and which comes into effect on 1st January 2018), a stricter domestic control system targeting FCM has been under design for the past four years and is now being implemented.

According to Dr Sean Moore of Citrus Research International (CRI), the CRI is in a position to ‘scientifically prove that the system we have developed will mitigate the phytosanitary risk and this approach is in line with the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures of the FAO’s International Plant Protection Convention’ (2).

FCM infestation is not only an issue in the citrus sector, the South African stone fruit and pomegranate sector has also been focussing ‘on a pre-emptive systems approach in the orchard and packhouse, based on scouting and monitoring as well as strategies like mating disruption, orchard sanitation and targeted control measures’.  This is being complemented by a strengthening of inspection points in pack houses and at points of export. These measures are being taken despite stone fruit being seen as a low-risk crop (4).

For pomegranate producers in the major production zone the Western and Northern Cape, FCM has virtually disappeared over the last two years. This is vitally important in the pomegranate sector since exports cannot tolerate the required low temperatures on a commercially viable basis (although experiments are now underway to see whether pomegranates could tolerate temperatures of 1 to 2°) (4).

Currently over half of South Africa’s pomegranate exports go to the EU27 and UK markets. This needs to be seen in a context where a 15% expansion of production is expected this season despite recent drought conditions in the major production zones (4).

The increased pressure for the enforcement of stricter SPS controls on FCM across Europe need to be seen in the context of recent comments by the technical secretary of UNIÓ de Llauradors, Joanma Mesado to the Agriculture Commission of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, who argued the ‘EU is progressively dismantling the tariff protection and should therefore enforce phytosanitary protection’. He maintained that rather than strictly enforcing phytosanitary protection the EC is ‘actually asking European producers to be competitive while taking away our defence tools and handing them over to the big exporters from third countries’.

Comment and Analysis

The launching of an EC audit of SPS inspections at the port of Rotterdam suggests political pressure mobilised by the Spanish citrus industry is having an effect. The Spanish citrus industry has long been arguing Dutch SPS controls on citrus imports from South Africa were inadequate and had long been pushing for action by the EC to verify compliance with strict Spanish style SPS control requirements.  Formerly the EC had left it to national ‘competent authorities’ to manage their SPS controls, providing these controls were in line with minimum EU requirements.

This more proactive approach by the EC on the eve of the entry into force of its new stricter controls on FCM and just 26 months before the entry into force a new far stricter EU Plant Health Regulation, is potentially a matter of profound concern to all ACP exporters of products falling under the scope of the new EU regulation.

The new EU regulation will increase the powers of the EC to halt trade on a pre-emptive basis, where imports have not been proven to be risk free and where a threat to EU plant health could conceivably arise.

This could signal a new era of more restricted trade in plant products where a risk of pest infestations could arise, with risk determinations potentially being subject to lobbying by competing national EU producer groups.

In terms of possible ACP responses, a clear and concerted message needs to be communicated to the EC and EU member states that the use of SPS measures to protect EU producers from competition from imports is unacceptable. Formal assurances are required from the EU Council that it remains committed to ensuring SPS measures are designed and implemented in ways which are minimally trade distorting.

Furthermore the EU Council needs to commit to a programme of action to ensure the design and implementation of EU SPS measures takes into account the need of smallholder producers for low cost systems both for the attainment of compliance and compliance verification.

This is essential if smallholder producers are not to be driven out of high value export supply chains as a result of the cost implications of EU SPS requirements and the commercial risks associated with intensified inspection requirements, which could lead to sudden market closures and major export earnings losses.

In terms of the specific challenges arising from stricter EU FCM controls it is noteworthy that control measures to combat FCM in South Africa are being implemented at a multi-sector level.  This is seeing the adoption of a common pre-emptive systems approach in the citrus fruit and stone fruit sectors.  This includes synchronised spraying programmes where necessary. This approach reflects the highly organised nature of the export farming sector in South Africa, which on a concerted basis has been able to work with the concerned government departments to ensure a comprehensive approach to controlling FCM is adopted.

It is far from clear how well organised  export orientated farming sectors in other ACP countries are in the face of similar challenges of stricter EU controls on FCM infestations.

(1), ‘EC to audit South African citrus inspections in the Netherlands’, 12 September 2017
(2), ‘South Africa’s systems approach to EU’s new FCM regulation’, 7 September 2017
(3), ‘Request to include citrus on list of high risk plants’, 20 November 2017
(4), ‘Stone fruit and pomegranate sectors prepare for new EU regulations’, 20 September 2017