Citrus black spot (CBS) is caused by the fungus Guignardia (Phyllosticta) citricarpa and results in superficial blemishes on fruit, affecting the cosmetic appearance of the fruit. It has no impact on the safety of the fruit or the quality of its flesh.

South Africa (SA) has been disputing the scientific basis of the European Union’s (EU’s) phytosanitary measures in respect of CBS for a number of years. In fact, these measures were strengthened over the years, which culminated in an EU decision in 2012 to limit interceptions of CBS-infected fruit to five. This interception limit applied to the 2013 export season. The EU indicated that it would consider instituting stricter import measures, which may include a ban on citrus fruit imported from SA once that threshold was reached.

Considering the importance of the EU market for South African citrus, and SA’s commitment to comply with the measures in question, the department and key industry partners have strengthened the CBS-risk management system (RMS), which aims to limit the occurrence of CBS in consignments. Throughout the 2013 citrus export season, the department continuously engaged the relevant EU authorities by sharing information on the implementation of the RMS and submitting information on remedial actions taken where a CBS interception had occurred. Despite implementing additional risk management measures, SA accumulated 35 interceptions of CBS on citrus fruit exported to the EU in the 2013 export season. Having reached and exceeded the five interception limit, SA received communication from the EU in December 2013 which limited further imports to only those from areas officially recognised as CBS-free in SA. This was not a ban as broadly understood or interpreted. In addition, the timing was such that it did not have a direct effect on exports.

Further strengthening of the RMS continued in anticipation of the 2014 export season and we have, together with industry role players, continued to engage the EU authorities. As part of this engagement, SA is aware of the meeting of the European Commission Standing Committee on Plant Health which is currently under way. It is further our understanding that the Standing Committee is discussing additional measures which would apply to South African citrus to prevent or limit the entry of CBS-infected fruit into the EU territory. We already have some idea of what such measures may entail, notably, additional field treatments, additional official inspections along critical points between harvesting and final packaging, etc.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries together with the relevant industry will continue to put strengthened measures in place to comply with the EU’s import requirements regarding CBS. However, we can only fully understand the extent and impact of any new measure when official communication is received from the relevant EU authorities.

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