It is difficult to see how SA will be able to avoid a ban on its exports of citrus fruit to the European Union. The issue overshadowed the recent EU-SA Summit in Pretoria, after which President Jacob Zuma and his European guests tried to play down the threat – suggesting that a way had been found to take the heat out of the dispute, by handing assessment over to the scientists. The problem stems from a fungal growth – Citrus Black Spot (CBS) – which develops on some South African fruit, and which the Europeans are worried could spread to their continent from infected SA fruit. The Europeans agreed at the Summit not to act until five contaminated SA shipments had been detected, through inspection of consignments landing in Europe. At the weekend, EU Ambassador in Pretoria Roeland van de Geer confirmed that once five CBS-contaminated shipments of ZA citrus fruit were detected, the European Commission would propose “a temporary ban on South African citrus exports to the EU.” A European Commission spokesman has just confirmed to ZA Confidential that five contaminated consignments HAVE been detected. “The relevant European Commission services will now enter into a wide consultation process, including with the South African authorities, ahead of announcing steps to be taken,” he said. While the Ambassador stressed that “there is no automaticity between the 5 interception threshold and a possible ban” it is difficult to see how the EU can back away from this, or would wish to if it perceives a real threat to a sector in which several million people are employed. Certainly, there now does appear to be a looming threat of an EU ban on SA citrus. The Commission says SA exports 500 000 tons of citrus, most of it to the EU, sustaining over 100 000 direct and indirect jobs. It appears that the assurances from Jacob Zuma and others at the EU-SA Summit were premature. The crisis has arrived.
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