The importation of citrus fruits from third countries to the European Union is not only a serious price competition for Spanish-produced oranges, but also a first-order threat to plant health. Pests such as the ‘cotonet’, the pulvinaria or the false moth put the entire Mediterranean production system at risk, according to the agrarian organizations, but the European Union continues to delay control measures. The obligation to apply a cold treatment during the transport of these citrus fruits from countries such as South Africa or Zimbabwe to European ports has once again come to a standstill, something that has provoked the rebellion of the Spanish citrus sector.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF) approved this treatment in February, which consists of subjecting the orange to temperatures between 0 and -1 degrees for 16 days to eliminate any type of pest. However, last Friday, the Plant Health Commission withdrew the approval of this regulation from the agenda, with special repercussions in the Valencian Community, to work on a new proposal.

Germany and the Netherlands have raised objections to this agreement for two reasons: to keep orange in the European market all year round with contained prices and to protect the interests of large importing companies that channel their traffic through the port of Rotterdam. In fact, the South African government put pressure on the European Commission by letter, threatening to paralyze its exports if the measure came into force this May, a few weeks after the start of its campaign.

According to sources consulted by ELMUNDO, the cold treatment is an armored proposal by the World Trade Organization, but it would be necessary to apply it “immediately and effectively”. That is what the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, has demanded, both yesterday in the Council of Ministers of the EU, where he gathered support, and last Monday before the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides. In both forums he has found “a favorable echo.”

The SCoPAFF Committee will meet again today and will have the regulation on the table, which needs a qualified majority that may not happen yet, but should arrive before the start of the import campaign, in less than a month.

The position of the ministry has not been “forceful” enough for the citrus growers, who see how the deadlines are stretched again. “It has been a jug of cold water for the EU to have yielded to pressure not to apply to South Africa the same homo treatment that China asks of them, and they comply with it, or that we do to export to third countries,” explains Ramón Espinosa, president from Intercitrus.

«It is a question of price, of the increase in costs that this entails, but if they want to work in Europe, let them assume it. Mediterranean agriculture cannot lose out”, adds the agrarian representative, who asks the Ministry for more strength and appreciates the support provided by the Generalitat Valenciana.

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