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Luis Planas demands in Brussels measures to curb pests in imported citrus

The Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas (r), greets his French counterpart, Julien Denormandie, this Monday in Brussels.OLIVIER HOSLET (EFE)

The false moth, a greyish Lepidoptera , possibly native to Ethiopia and present in numerous African countries, which nests in citrus fruits, infesting them with eggs and ruining entire crops, has fluttered this Monday in Brussels. The Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, has assured from the community capital that he is “concerned about the entry of pests” like this one “into the European Union” through citrus fruits from countries such as South Africa, one of Spain's biggest competitors in the production of these fruits.

Planas has claimed the need to adopt the “cold treatment” as a standard practice in the countries of origin “to avoid these situations”. It has also asked to promote the application of so-called “mirror clauses” in trade negotiations with third countries, so that imported products meet the same safety and quality standards.

The words of the Spanish minister come at a time when Spanish citrus growers are protesting a campaign with rock-bottom prices. The socialist, who has appeared shortly before joining his counterparts in the first agriculture and fisheries council of the year, has cited a 2021 report prepared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which precisely recognizes the need to impose the cold treatment – ​​the eggs are aborted at temperatures below one degree, according to a report by the Andalusian Government – ​​to imports of citrus fruits from South Africa to the community market. “We have asked the Commission and to the police station [de Salud y Seguridad Alimentaria, Stella] Kyriakides that it be adopted”, added Planas.

The false moth, common name of the Thaumatotibia leucotreta, is one of the biggest nightmares of Valencian farmers . This year, precisely, in the sector they are complaining about a ruinous orange campaign, due in part to the high competition from products imported from outside the community territory, which do not meet the same labor and phytosanitary standards, according to the citrus growers.

Planas has described the start of this year's campaign as “surprising”, since it had been planned ” stability in terms of prices”, which has finally not happened. “It is true that imported and stored South African oranges, also taking into account the temperatures that have been very mild, have contributed to the disruption of the market,” he commented to the press.

The minister has reiterated his intention to fight in Brussels so that the “quotas” imported from third countries are not expanded, in order to avoid “a serious disruption to the Community market. In September, Planas and the Minister of Commerce, Reyes Maroto, addressed a letter to the Commission in which they requested that citrus fruits be classified as a “very sensitive” product in the face of imports from third countries, urging that there be no additional concessions of ahead of the review of the economic partnership agreement between the EU and the Southern African Development Community (which includes South Africa). They also reminded Brussels, according to a note released by the Government at the time, that Spanish production is subject to the demanding community production model and that due to the lack of reciprocity in trade agreements, “the next review of the agreement should not offer additional concessions to citrus imports”.

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“I believe that the Commission has been favorable in the sense of considering that this is, obviously, a sensitive product with a view to commercial exchanges”, Planas added this Monday, before disappearing in the Council building. The citrus sector in Spain represents, with 2,500 million euros per year on average, 4.9% of the production of the agricultural branch in Spain and 32.5% of that of fruit. Spanish citrus growers harvest 60% of the total community production, which places Spain as the main producer of citrus fruits in the EU and fifth in the world.

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