It will take some time for a new deal involving increased access for South African citrus into the US to be put in place.
Although Federal register Volume 83, Number 112, indicated that a new rule which allow wider South African access may be published in September, sources in South Africa agree that much water will have to flow under the bridge before expanded access becomes a reality.
If the rule is published in September, citrus from so-called citrus black spot (CBS) areas in South Africa will be admitted to the US. However, it is not expected that the decision will affect exports this year.
Previously only citrus grown in the Western and Northern Cape, which had been regarded as CBS-free areas, were admitted into the US. Western and Northern Cape growers have over the years developed a strong market in the US under the Summer Citrus umbrella. They have also benefitted from the US Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) which was renewed two years ago to support African agricultural exports into the country.
Chairman of Summer Citrus from South Africa (SCSA), Boet Mouton, said no formal negotiations had taken place, and was uncertain what the final protocol for these new areas to be granted access would be.
“What we do know is that supplying the US market according to our current programme requires the highest form of discipline," he said. "The challenges of pre-clearance and cold sterri programmes puts enormous pressure on fruit quality. The management of the protocol for packing, inspections and shipping is tough and we learnt lots of hard lessons over the past 20 years.”
Mouton said that while South Africa was the major citrus player in the Southern Hemisphere, the portion of the whole South African harvest sold in the US was very small.
“Out of experience we know that big changes in markets which are not properly coordinated or not taking the requirements of the market into consideration, leads to instability, as was the case at deregulation of the South African citrus industry."
Chile and Peru are presently big players in citrus in the US market. “Because of geography and existing trade relations, they have the option to supply through ports on the east and west coast of the US. Between Chile, Peru and South Africa the summer citrus market in the US is fairly well supplied.”
Hannes de Waal, managing director at Sundays River Citrus Company, said that once all becomes clear it will be very interesting to see how the South African industry deal with the new arrangements. “The US market is very sensitive and not something one should enter without proper preparation."
Sources pointed out that South African lemons, which are expected to be a beneficiary of the new deal, cannot survive the protocols currently in existence for the US market. “However,” said De Waal, “soft citrus and oranges from the other regions could be more easily handled in terms of the present regulations.”