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EP resolution endorses stricter measures and controls for non-EU citrus

"In practice, a cold treatment measure entails a ban on citrus imports"

The European Parliament yesterday approved the resolution calling for stricter control measures for citrus imports from outside the EU. This is aimed at protecting European producers and preventing the spread of diseases and pests such as African codling moth and Citrus Black Spot (CBS). 463 parliamentarians voted for this resolution. There were 168 against and three abstentions. The resolution of the European Parliament is not binding. The final decision on the control measures will be taken by the "Standing Committee on Plant Health" of the EU Commission.

To keep the African codling moth at bay, the resolution proposes for the citrus fruit to undergo a cold treatment (or a comparable one, for which prior approval must be obtained by the Commission) before the fruit is imported into the EU. It has also been proposed to inspect samples of at least 600 fruits per 30 tonnes to prevent the entry of Black Spot before the fruit is packed and shipped to Europe. A similar visual examination should be carried out on arrival in Europe with at least 200 fruits per 30 tonnes.

Dutch importers see the measures as disguised protectionism, mostly by the southern Member States. Also Deon Joubert, of the South African Citrus Growers Association, calls the result "terribly disappointing", especially considering the measures adopted by the South African industry to reduce the number of CBS cases. The proposed cold treatment in particular seems to be a problem. "This won't be an issue for a number of citrus fruits, but it is not suitable for lemons and the newest easy-peelers, which cannot resist this treatment," he told FreshPlaza earlier this week.

Inge Ribbens - GroentenFruit Huis
This has been confirmed by Inge Ribbens, head for market access issues at GroentenFruit Huis, in the Netherlands. "In practice, this cold treatment measure entails a ban on imports, because some varieties cannot resist it. The resolution has been based on a cold treatment report from 1969, without looking for alternative options, and scientific studies have shown that there are plenty of alternative effective treatments available."

"Of course, we also believe in measures for market protection, but they have to be commensurate with the risks. About 90% of all imported citrus goes directly to places such as retailers, where there is no danger to the local production. There would only be a risk if Spanish companies repackaged the imported fruit in their own production areas, but they should accept their own responsibility there. It is not acceptable for them not to take any steps but then push the responsibility to others. If a Member State wants additional safeguards, they could require the cold treatment themselves, but this should not be the default requirement. South Africa has shown with its "system approach" against Citrus Black Spot that it is perfectly able to adopt measures to ensure the European requirements are met. Our approach is therefore for the "effective treatment" to be left in the habds of third countries and not make it compulsory (through a lengthy process) for the Commission's approval to be needed. If this appears not to work, additional measures may always be taken."

"All in all, the most severe measure has been enforced for a consumption product with a low risk. We don't even consider it sensitive material. It is also a discriminatory measure, because the codling moth also affects roses and peppers," Inge continues. She considers the resolution adopted a 'not insignificant opinion', but does hope that the European Commission will come to a different conclusion. "Otherwise we, as import sector, will have a huge problem!"

Jose Antonio García - Ailimpo
"This is an important and historical step. The European Parliament made very clear that this is the way to go to get the final resolution. The game rules are set now and this will not hinder the trade in any way so it will only make it much safer", says Jose Antonio García, director of Ailimpo, on behalf the citrus sector.

The representatives of the Spanish citrus sector acknowledges and welcomes the European Parliament's sensitivity and involvement. Especially noteworthy is the conscientious and constant work of the Spanish deputies of the Committee on Agriculture to make this dossier a fact. They now hope that this "historic resolution" will reach the Commission as a clear and unambiguous message and lead to the presentation of a new project.

The Spanish sector claims that the possibility that the product imported into the Union from contaminated countries, theoretically intended for the juice industry, should be eliminated in Europe with less caution and control than those required for the fresh product. "This 'parallel channel' - which the Commission is proposing for the time being - would allow these citrus fruits, once inside the EU, to end up in the fresh market, creating an unacceptable danger." On the other hand, in order to have an effective treatment for the pest Thaumatotibia leucotreta - "it is necessary to require the third countries to carry out a cold treatment or a method of equivalent efficacy objectively endorsed by the EFSA and not to consider any other treatment decided unilaterally by the importers.

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