Last Thursday, the European Commission denied that the import of oranges and mandarins from South Africa is the reason for the price crisis that producers have been suffering at the start of the campaign, and which has motivated widespread protests in the Region of Valencia. In a hearing in the European Parliament at the request of socialist MEP Clara Aguilera, the head of the Directorate General of Agriculture, Joao Onofre, said that "there is no statistical data to say that there has been an increase in imports from South Africa in the period that is harmful to the European production."
The senior official insisted on his first intervention and afterwards, after the questions of other MEPs, such as Florent Marcellesi (The Greens) or Lidia Senra (IU), that the "fall in prices", which he did acknowledge, is due to organizational problems on the part of both the sector and producers, climatological issues and a lack of demand. He said that the irregular entry of citrus fruits from third countries with which the EU has signed trade agreements, like Egypt or Morocco, is not a key factor. "The Commission has no evidence proving that the crisis is due to imports from third countries, like the ones arriving as a result of the trade agreement with South Africa," said Onofre. "They maybe don't like it, but the import figures do not show a significant increase in the volume of oranges arriving during the critical period for the European Union," he insisted.
His claim was not well-received by the representatives of the agrarian organizations, which went to Brussels in a mission organized by the Government of Valencia. The producers still believe that they have suffered heavy losses at the beginning of the season and attribute them partly to the overlap of the late varieties imported from South Africa and the early ones produced in Spain, mainly in Valencia and Andalusia. For this reason, producers are asking Brussels to apply the safeguard clause of the trade agreement with the African country, something that does not seem possible now if, as Joao Onofre pointed out, the Commission does not believe that imports are disrupting the sustainability of the Spanish sector.
For the agricultural organizations, however, the data available are worrisome. Regarding the import figures, the Valencian Association of Agricultural Producers (AVA) released this Thursday some statistics from the Ministry of Economy that would support their argument about the very notable increase in shipments of citrus fruits from South Africa and other countries to the European market over the last five years. "AVA-Asaja considers that South Africa is not the only source of disturbances for Spanish citrus fruits, since other third countries, such as Egypt or Morocco, are also exerting unfair competition." Official figures from the Ministry of Commerce leave no room for doubt, as the cumulative rise of exports of Egyptian citrus fruits - especially oranges - to Europe between 2014 and 2018 is estimated at a concerning 78.9%, after reaching a total of 332,126 tonnes. At the same time, the growth of Turkish exports has been estimated at 18.2%, after reaching a total of 284,882 tons during the period at hand. As for South Africa, there has been an increase of 40.4%," states the association chaired by Cristóbal Aguado. .