The WCO is not going to help the interests of Spanish citrus fruit growers

CGC Inmaculada Sanfeliú

Fruit Today euromagazine talked exclusively to Inmaculada Sanfeliu, general manager of the Comité de Gestión de Cítricos, the Spanish body that brings in almost 2,500 million euros with its members’ exports

First of all, could you tell us who makes up the organisation you head and the production and sales percentages that they represent?

The CGC (Citrus Fruit Management Committee) is a national Professional Association formed by private export companies, but also by some cooperatives and agricultural processing companies. 125 companies and 25 Producer Organisations form part of the CGC; FEPAC-ASAJA (Federación de Productores Agrarios de Castellón) and the Asociación de Citricultores de la Provincia de Huelva (ACPH) also form part of the CGC. Spain exports 3,100-3,255 million EUR of citrus fruits, and the export value of the companies belonging to the CGC reaches 2,300-2,418 million EUR, which means it has a high representation.

Who does the sector fear more, Egypt or South Africa?

Egypt exports citrus fruits (essentially oranges) to the EU, tariff-free. South Africa already had zero tariffs for its mandarins, and with the signing of the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) between the EU and 6 member states of the South African Development Community (SADC) in 2016, the tariff-free period (from the 1st of June to the 15th of October) was extended to the end of November, with a scaled drop of the tariff applicable in this period, which was started in 2016 and will be prolonged over the next six years (in 2026 the tariff will be completely eliminated for this period).

This agreement has meant an increase in their volume on the EU market during the period of our Navelinas and it has damaged the sales of our earliest oranges (M-7, Fukumoto, NewHall, Navelina), which have to coexist in the region with their late Navels oranges and above all, Valencias, at times ‘tired’ fruit that conditions our starting price.

In spite of all this, South Africa is counter season. Egypt, however, shares our seasonality and it produces up to 285,000-325,000 Tm of small-calibre Navels and, above all, Valencias which feed the large retailers and the juice machines of central and northern Europe from January to June, with prices we cannot compete with (35 cents of euro/kg in the EU).

If such is the case, why is South Africa mentioned so often?

Because its citrus fruit sector is growing at great speed in mandarins, particularly in late hybrid varieties (Nadorcott, Or, Tango…), both due to an increase in surface area and due to the increase in yield by young plantations. 60% of the surface area for mandarins is planted with trees that are 6 years old or less, which have not yet entered into full production.

We are even more concerned about the enormous risk of interceptions by foreign bodies, Black Spot and False Codling Moth (Thaumatotibia Leucotreta) in their imports. Pests that could have an important impact in Spain due to our dedication to fresh exports. For this reason, we insist on keeping and even intensifying the emergency measures at source and we demand ‘cold treatment’ on their exports to the EU.

In 2018, South Africa exported 2.149 Million tonnes, of which 811,534 went to the EU (amongst others, 462,940 Tm of oranges and 128,960 Tm of mandarins).

What are your reasons for not being present in the WCO? Couldn’t it be a transparency portal for the entire sector?

We don’t believe that this organisation is going to be useful for the interests of Spanish citrus fruit growers, or for those of our associated companies, because we consider that now is not the right time or the right context, because we don’t want the different administrations involved to use its existence to elude their responsibilities and because we don’t want it to be used to conceal an approach to the European Commission regarding a reduction in their commitment to plant protection at the borders. And I will point out our fears: we believe that the WCO may be used to eliminate or mitigate the emergency measures at source against black spot or to defend the possibility of introducing citrus fruit to be used for industrial processing with less demanding requirements than those for fresh citrus fruit imports, or to allow third countries to keep applying treatments that they consider “effective” for their citrus fruits without these being approved by the SCOPAFF, in the case of the Citrus canker and Thaumatotibia leucotreta.

But the fact is that we also don’t understand the reasons for such urgency and such interest in us joining the association. Moreover, we also don’t believe that its promoters are the most suitable…

I will tell you the little that we know about the WCO: it will be co-presided over by Ailimpo and by the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) of Southern Africa and that the “coordination and administrative questions” will be undertaken by the Freshfel association, with head offices in Brussels. Why not have main offices in Sidney, in Washington, in Cairo, Cape Town, in Murcia or in Rio de Janeiro? Well, the answer seems to be clear: because it wants to influence the government of the capital of Europe. With regard to its statutes, representation, forms of government, decision-making… nothing has been specified as yet. We also do not know the real representation, in tonnage, marketed by those who really have shown interest in joining: Why aren’t the names of companies, corporations or associations being given instead of merely mentioning the States?

Why do you distrust the CGA and Ailimpo so much?

The CGA has made its priorities clear on the subject of external relations. This is not just me saying this; its own executives do, too: they consider that there are barriers against their entry to the EU due to the plant protection regulations for pests such as ‘black spot’ and ‘False Codling Moth’. Before allying themselves with Ailimpo to promote the WCO, they already acknowledged that they had to “improve relations with Spain” to encourage “dialogue”, in their own actual words, with the EU and they need to resolve the conflict generated in Europe regarding the maximum plant protection residues that they use. And if this alliance were not to work for them, and I repeat this is what they themselves are warning, they have put pressure on their Government to report the EU to the World Trade Organisation. Do you really believe that all this is just about the people involved, that this world organisation will be transparent and that it will work for the citrus fruit sector in global terms?

In the South African case, we disagree with its business organisation, with the CGA. Just a few years ago, they funded a study about the assumed discovery at several European sites of the ‘black spot’ pathogen. That article, falsely coated in science, was embarrassing and forced the EFSA to convene a panel of experts to refute it. The problem is the different yardstick used by the CGA with the European plant protection legislation that regulates their imports: the same regulations that they accept applying in the case of the USA, China, Japan, India…, countries with a citrus growing production similar to Europe’s and which have to protect themselves against these pathogens, they reject in the case of the EU. We will have to pay for the risk of their refusal, of which the European Commission is an accomplice, in the form of pests.

Do you believe that Freshfel is not defending European interests correctly in Brussels or that this organisation is serving other interests?

The same organisation cannot simultaneously defend the interests of the production/trade of fruit and vegetables from the EU and the imports of fruit and vegetables from non-EU third countries. When there is a conflict of interests, for example, in the negotiation of any trade agreement, it will have to come down on one side or another. We are integrated in the European organisation that we consider is best adapted to our business model, and this is Eucofel, not Freshfel. Let each person choose where they feel most comfortable. We are among those who are concerned about the fruit we work with, but also about those who grow it and how they produce it.

In any event, are you going to be able to act alone in a globalised world?

We are not going to be alone. What is most daring is attempting to set up a world citrus fruit organisation without the participation of the export sector of the leading power in fresh sales. Spain almost doubles South Africa in export volume, and Ailimpo’s lemons and grapefruits only represent 17% of Spanish foreign trade. Why haven’t they looked for a suitable structure to ensure that we were comfortable? Let them ask their promoters, but I repeat that the answer lies in the real goals of those who have instigated this organisation, and this has been answered in writing on many occasions by the CGA. Ailimpo’s reasons are yet to be known.

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