Trade agreements between the European Union (EU) and third countries have become one of the threats for Spanish fruit and vegetables. At least, that's what many producers believe, as they see competition in the EU market increase every year.
There are no complaints about the recent trade agreements with Canada or Japan, which are not competitors in the agricultural sector, but about those that are boosting the entry of citrus fruits and other fruits from South Africa, Egypt or Morocco; flowers from Kenya or bananas from Ecuador, which overlap in part with the Spanish campaigns.
Regarding the inclusion of Western Sahara in the latest EU-Morocco agreement, the European Commission (EC) justified it in a 2018 report listing the economic and labor benefits of its incorporation for the Saharawi population. It estimated that fruit and vegetable cultivation in the area could expand from the current 900 hectares to 5,000, with the production volume growing from 64,000 to 500,000 tons in the medium term.
Spain, which years ago was called 'Europe's Orchard', is also keeping a close eye on the Brexit situation, the negotiations with Mercosur and the increase of US tariffs on EU olives (which could now be extended to citrus fruits, wine and cheese) and of Brazil's on garlic.
The main agricultural associations, Cooperativas Agro-alimentarias, Asaja, COAG and UPA, have criticized the loss of margins because of the increase of EU imports from Turkey or Egypt, which adds to the loss of the Russian market due to its veto on European fruit and vegetable products since 2014.
They complain that foreign competitors with lower production costs not only cause the EU to have a greater supply, but can also introduce pests, such as Black Spot, which has been detected in citrus fruits shipped from South Africa.
"The free trade policies are a clear commitment from the EU which has led to an asymmetric globalization. All third countries can access the EU market practically without restrictions, while we face serious difficulties to enter theirs," says the director of Fepex, José María Pozancos.
The representatives of the EC in Madrid deny this. "Agriculture is a key sector for the EU and the Commission is extremely careful when negotiating and signing agreements with other countries. These also include safeguard measures when necessary in order to protect specific national sectors."
The professor of Agrarian Economics of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, José María García Álvarez Coque, acknowledged that the situation is "complex and everyone is partly right, so we must look into what needs to be corrected and what should be protected, since Spain has one of the most export-oriented horticultural sectors on the planet."