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Treasury jobs plan will be fruitless unless trade barri...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Treasury jobs plan will be fruitless unless trade barriers are tackled

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Chadwick is the chief executive officer of the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa.

If the government is genuinely committed to its new plan for economic growth, tackling unfair trade restrictions is the only way to deliver its promise to create jobs.

The new economic plan proposed by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni last week provided some welcome good news for the South African agricultural sector. Among many laudable objectives and sound proposals, it sets a target of boosting agricultural exports by R6-billion over the next 10 years.

The aim to increase exports is part of an overarching strategy to increase economic growth by 2.3% and create one million new jobs within a decade. This is bold and exciting stuff. It offers a sense of direction and purpose for our country at a time when it is sorely needed.

I was in Japan when Treasury’s report was published, and the timing could not have been better: we were there as part of the business delegation accompanying President Cyril Ramaphosa as he embarked on bilateral trade talks in Yokohama.

In Japan, much was made of South Africa’s position as a gateway to Africa. With the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in place this could lead to even greater benefits for South African ports, infrastructure and related businesses.

We also discussed market access for our products to Japan which is a strong market for South African fruit exports, but with incredibly strict market access conditions. Japan deals with access to its market for agriculture variety by variety: for example, one type of grape may be allowed, but another not. We urgently need the list of varieties to be expanded if we are to fully realise the potential of this export market.

Applications to adjust these and other onerous conditions have dragged on since 2004, and we need a genuine political commitment to move the needle. The president committed to raising these matters in his engagements with the Japanese prime minister. He also proposed a commission between South African and Japan so that the issues could be actively addressed in practice, rather than remaining merely a commitment.

We warmly welcome the president’s commitment in these negotiations, as they signify a real opportunity for expanding South African exports. We also hope this sentiment will extend to other markets where South African products are being unfairly excluded on technical grounds.

The European Union’s ongoing 26-year campaign to restrict the trade of South African citrus to the continent citing something called Citrus Black Spot, is a case in point.

Citrus Black Spot (CBS) is a fungal disease that affects the outside of the fruit, but does not cause decay. Most important, scientists have shown that it cannot survive in the European climate and fruit is not a pathway – so the EU is at no risk of infection from imported fruit.

Despite this, the EU persists in classifying CBS a quarantine pest, and claims citrus fruit is a “pathway” for CBS transmission, placing EU crops at risk. South Africa agrees with the rest of the world’s opinion that our fruit cannot infect those in Europe.

The South African citrus industry has gone above and beyond to ensure that we meet all of these burdensome regulations, investing in significant research and successful proactive measures to contain the disease – despite scientific evidence that this is not necessary.

This costs the industry an estimated R1.86-billion, and leaves the industry reliant on the whims of EU bureaucracy, which holds up consignments without bothering to perform any tests as to whether the fungus is viable.

As long as the EU persists in this unfair practice, South African growth will suffer – the expansion of market access overseas is crucial to creating jobs in our country. If the government is genuinely committed to its new plan for economic growth, tackling these unfair practices is the only way to deliver its promise to create jobs.

We hope the president’s commitment to addressing unfair export market exclusion in Yokohama will extend to the EU case as well. In this case, we are of the firm view that lodging a dispute with the WTO is crucial if we are to export successfully to the EU. The restriction dates as far back as 1992, and the EU seems to have no interest in altering its regulations. The new Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, is currently examining the options available on this issue and we hope he will follow the president’s lead.

As the citrus industry, we are committed to working with the government to ensure that South African products are given fair access, so that we can help grow the economy and create those one million new jobs envisaged by our finance minister. BM

Chadwick is the chief executive officer of the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa.

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