Using a conciliatory tone, Deon Joubert, the top executive of the Citrus Grower Association (CGA) of South Africa for European Affairs, talked to Fruit Today to emphasise the sector’s need for a global platform that defends the category’s interests and increases demand.
Why does the CGA support the need for a common platform for citrus fruit (the World Citrus Organization) where all the sector’s efforts may be brought together?
In the first place, because there are similar experiences with other products that work very well. I could mention the case of the WAPA (World Apple and Pear Association), the WAO (World Avocado Organization) or the IKO (International Kiwi Organization). There are no borders in the world of today; it is globalised and, therefore, it is better to share experiences and face up to problems together than fighting against each other as enemies.
Europe and South Africa have maintained a common trade for over 110 years. We have complementary productions because we are in different hemispheres.
Do you not think that South African and European producers represent different interests and situations of conflict could arise?
No, not at all. We are all in the same boat. None of us are naïve, but we must act in a global way. We are interested in developing the category on a worldwide scale and, to do this, we must share information regarding consumption, markets, harvest, research, etc.
We should not forget that (and this happens very frequently) some fruit ‘cannibalises’ other in daily consumption. Globally, we are all interested in working towards the same goals and, if this is not the case, the sector is going to have a hard time.
There are large scale challenges, such as greening, which we must face up to together. Look at what happened in Florida. Climate change is going to affect us all as producers and the list goes on and on.
So, do you think that the citrus fruit category is having a hard time?
There are differences amongst citrus fruit, but the sector should take a forward-looking approach. Talking about lemons, grapefruit or oranges is not the same as talking about mandarins. The latter is a marvellous product that young people love, but we must encourage its consumption.
Lemons are very fashionable and their consumption is growing both due to chefs in the kitchens and also for beverages. Each product or variety has its own path that we must all promote.
Competition should not be amongst ourselves: competition should mean other fruit. I suppose that you are aware of the important world upturn in avocados. This is a complete success story.
Are you aware that there is an important debate in Spain about you playing a double game? Are you attempting to get closer to European institutions to obtain greater laxity in plant protection or quality terms, for example, with fruit for industry?
Yes, I have heard something about this. This argument is absolutely false: we are not going to work against ourselves and discredit the category. This is the complete opposite to what we want.
The WCO’s initiative has the European Commission’s approval, along with that of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture.
For many years we have done a great deal of business in Spain and Europe is our natural counter season market (from May to October). Our presence in these months helps to maintain the consumption of the category throughout the year and it is a source of business for many exporters.
With regard to Spanish exporters, many of them from Valencia, I would say that we have great respect and admiration for their know-how. Spain is the leader and the leader should act as such. Spanish companies must be creative and find reasons to cooperate. You have the experience of cooperation with the Single Market; I don’t believe that you want to go back to a situation such as the one prior to the 1990s.
You are squeezing our trading margin in mandarins.
If you want to find a reason for arguing, you will always find one, but the volumes from Spanish production cannot be compared with those from South Africa. Yes, we are growing, but this won’t go beyond 10% over the next few years.
Sincerely, I think that there is a market for everyone; the important point is that consumers feel that our produce is attractive and they choose it.
Spain is, and will continue to be, the leading exporter for fresh produce: eight million tonnes of production and four for export is a very significant figure. Our production is 2,500,000 tns and our exports to the EU reach 800,000 tns and we are not in the same hemisphere. The great world producers are in the northern hemisphere. The south represents less than a quarter of world production (around 26,000 million tonnes) and of these, a quarter comes from Brazil, which is mainly used for fruit juice.