The citrus campaign is being bitter for Spanish producers. The prices at origin for oranges and mandarins have sunk and protests have become widespread in the Region of Valencia, which accounts for 70% of the Spanish production. The crisis is the result of a combination of factors, although the sector highlights the trade agreement between the European Union and South Africa. The Government is committed to approving measures to alleviate the effects of the crisis.
"The situation is serious. A part of the production is being sold cheap, but there is another that is not even going to be harvested, because it's just not profitable. For many, it is being a dramatic campaign," says Ricardo Bayo, organization secretary of the Union of Small Farmers (UPA) of the Region of Valencia, the agricultural association that holds the presidency of Intercitrus and brings the majority of producers, marketing and industrial companies in the sector together.
A kilo of oranges is sold at origin for about 11 cents, says Bayo. And in supermarkets, you can find some from 75 cents per kilo. At the end of November, the Valencian Association of Agricultural Producers-ASAJA estimated the losses suffered by the producers at 163 million Euro.
Various aspects have contributed to the crisis this season. A large production, totaling around 7.5 million tons; the two storms that hit the Mediterranean in October and November, preventing part of the harvest from reaching the caliber demanded by the European market (the main destination for Spanish citrus); and a more temperate autumn than usual in the central and northern parts of the continent, where the demand grows with the cold.
In this context, the agrarian organizations have criticized the implementation of the EU trade agreement with South Africa, which came into force in 2016 and allows the importation of citrus fruits from this country until November 30 with tariffs that have stood at 11.6% in 2018, and which will continue to be reduced until their disappearance in 2026.
Theoretically, the Southern Hemisphere campaign complements the Spanish one, but in practice, the late varieties of South African oranges and mandarins overlap with the earliest of the Spanish season, which lasts from late September to May.
The Councillor of Agriculture of the Region of Valencia, Elena Cebrián, has asked the Spanish Government to urge the European Commission to activate the safeguard clause provided for in the international agreement, which would entail an increase in tariffs.
However, the Spanish Minister of Economy, Nadia Calviño, has said that, in the current circumstances, it is not possible to activate the clause featured in article 34 of the Economic Association Agreement between the European Union and the Community of South African States. There needs to be a strong increase in the importation of a product under conditions that threaten to cause serious damage to an economic sector of the receiving block. Last week, Calviño assured in Congress that the volume of oranges imported from South Africa remains "at a very similar level to those of the years prior to the agreement."
In order to try tackling the "difficult" situation that the sector is going through this campaign, the Ministry of Agriculture has promised to withdraw 50,000 tons of oranges and mandarins from the market in order to push prices up; a possibility provided for by EU legislation . The fruit will go to charities and juice producers, which will be distributed free of charge through food banks. The aid granted to producers for the funding of these withdrawals could exceed 12.5 million Euro.
The Government has also agreed to study the granting of tax subsidies to agricultural producers.