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Spain: According to European data, South African oranges are not the real problem for the citrus sector

According to data revealed by Brussels, the crisis that the Spanish citrus sector is going through is not at all being caused by the import of South African fruit, but has more to do with the serious internal problems that the sector is suffering. The opinion of the growers, which the parties have happily assumed, about the overflow of the market, the viability of the safeguard clause or the lack of aid, clashes head-on with the data handled by the European Union.

Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero, MEP who has closely followed the issue, says that people are trying to blame someone else for the crisis in the sector and are focusing on the wrong problem, instead of trying to solve all internal problems. "The sector has made the South African orange its spearhead and there are political parties that have taken that flag. The reality of the data shows that this is not the case," states the MEP.

The producer associations estimate the volume of non-EU fruit that has "flooded Europe" in recent years, and which brings direct and unfair competition against Spanish citrus fruits, at more than 1.5 million tons. In fact, they claim that South African citrus imports have grown by 40.4% in the period between 2014 and 2018. Furthermore, according to data provided by AVA Asaja, imports this year have allegedly grown by 15% compared to the previous year, and the volume is expected to continue increasing over the next few years, as non-EU growers increase their production.

The data provided by the European Commission draw a very different scenario to that proposed by the Valencian growers. Although they admit that there has been an increase in the import volume, they say that this has taken place in the off-season, and that there has only been a 5% growth compared to the previous year. However, during the period included in the concessions of the Economic Association Agreement (EPA) (from October 16 to November 30), imports of South African oranges were significantly lower than during the same period of 2017 and only represent 2% of the annual imports.

According to industry sources, the impact of the arrival of South African oranges would only affect the earliest varieties, and it is impossible for fruit from South Africa to continue being sold as of January. However, according to the same sources, this does not affect the entire campaign, except in contributing to the creation of a domino effect of various internal factors that would have ended up causing the crisis in the sector.

Already last year, Europe was asked to monitor the entry of South African exports in the face of the sector's concern that there might be overlapping campaigns. The data collected shows that the volume of imports from South Africa is not relevant compared to the European production, and that these would not account for more than 20% of the citrus fruits available in the common market.

At the end of last January, the Minister of Economy, Nadia Calviño, in response to an intervention from Valencian deputy Joan Baldoví, already warned that the entry of non-EU fruit didn't reach a dangerous enough level for it to harm EU producers; therefore, enforcing a measure as exceptional as the application of the safeguard clause didn't seem justified.

"Putting the focus on a problem that is not the cause of the crisis in the sector is equivalent to not accepting all the reforms that need to be undertaken. Valencia's citrus sector needs to modernize itself and form associations to be able to get the prices it needs; otherwise, it won't be able to survive," said the MEP.


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