A recent visit to Japan for the annual Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which was joined by the Citrus Growers’ Association at the behest of President Cyril Ramaphosa, provided the association with a salient opportunity to address some nagging aspects of fruit trade with that country, as well as to press the fruit industry’s interests.
Currently between eighty and ninety percent of South African citrus going to Japan is grapefruit, but the country’s appetite for grapefruit is ageing along with its population, with little demand among younger consumers (a phenomenon neither limited to Japan nor to grapefruit; marmalade consumption in the UK being a case in point).
The decline of the Floridean grapefruit industry and with it the generous grapefruit promotions in Japan that used to be sponsored by that industry, has hurt the South African industry too. In 2012 South Africa sent 60,000 pallets of grapefruit, down to 40,000 pallets last year. It will likely be lower this year, given the smaller crop.
No access for SA mandarins to Japan
South Africa would like to diversify its offering to Japan, but there are some snags. Unlike most other countries, Japan only allows soft citrus per variety and at the moment, to protect their own year-round greenhouse mandarin production, from South Africa only clementines are allowed while, Justin Chadwick, the CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association points out, Japanese consumers don’t particularly have a taste for clementines.
“These technical barriers to trade don’t only apply to us, Peru for instance only has access for their Satsumas while the only variety of South African grape allowed by Japan is Barlinka grapes. Late mandarins, like Nadorcotts, Tango’s and Orris and the like, would be more suitable to the Japanese market. We don’t think our mandarin volumes would be enough to threaten their mandarin industry,” he says.
On oranges there is a degree of hair-splitting that is causing uncertainty as to which navel types are allowed and which are not, while Valencias have access.
Shipping protocol changes needed for lemon trade
Another matter the industry is keen to see addressed – one on which they’ve been working for 15 years now, with zero response from Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries over the past five years – is the matter of shipping protocols for Japan.
“When South Africa gained access to Japan in the 1970s there was only one cold treatment, but in the intervening years other options have been developed and that’s what we’d like them to consider.”
The industry would be keen to expand lemon trade to Japan, but in the absence of a favourable shipping protocol that obviates the risk of cold damage, it’s not a viable option.
Avos to the East
In his capacity as Chairperson of Fruit South Africa, Justin Chadwick also raised the oft-mentioned matter of avocado access to markets in the East in his briefing of newly appointed Minister for Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, whom he found remarkably retentive of fruit trade facts and figures.
He also had the chance to brief President Cyril Ramaphosa, with no shortage of matters extraneous to fruit production to discuss, such as the port and transport problems of this season.
There has not yet been feedback from government on the matters under discussion, but an openness for dialogue heartens the industry.
“There are a lot of issues to be discussed with government and the meeting with President Ramaphosa was a brief one, but we have impressed upon government that as the fruit industry, we are part of the solution.”