When the British referendum result emerged in the small hours of 24 June last year, I – like the rest of the world – was surprised. However, as time unfolded, the consequence of that decision have spread as far as the southern tip of Africa.
There is an enormous amount written about the impact of Brexit on trade with the UK. Most of the articles spell out doom and gloom. What is for sure is that there are more uncertainties than certainties as the process unfolds – no country has ever been through a similar process so there is no experience to draw from in coming to any conclusions, all of the articles are at the end of the day speculation. The outcome will be the result of much negotiation, compromise and position taking – a complex process that will deliver many unforeseen outcomes.
Focusing on the citrus industry, we can even hope for a better trading environment than the present one we have with the European Union (EU). The fact citrus is grown in southern Europe means that regulators in Brussels are under pressure to protect domestic producers. The present tariff regime and plant health requirements attest to that fact. In the case of tariffs, these are hiked up considerably when the domestic season begins in order to dissuade imports. In the case of plant health requirements, the longstanding technical dispute has been covered extensively in the press.
So what is the preferred outcome for citrus exporters at the tip of Africa? Given that there is no citrus industry in the UK, the first preferred outcome would be that plant health requirements would change. Pests and diseases that are citrus specific would hold no threat to UK production, and would therefore be removed from the list of quarantine pests. Similarly, with no domestic citrus industry to protect, the UK could remove all tariffs on imported citrus.
The EU remains South Africa’s most important citrus export market – over the past ten years approximately 45 per cent of total citrus exports went to the EU, with about 10 per cent destined for UK markets. The importance of the UK market is even more significant for soft citrus/easy peelers, as almost a third of South African soft citrus is destined for the UK.
Sitting here at the southern tip of Africa we can only watch with interest – and hope for an outcome that is beneficial to our fruit industries.
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