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Increased BRICS market access opportunities to markets in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries holds good potential for boosting South African Citrus Exports. As the upcoming BRICS summit in South Africa approaches, it presents an opportunity to reflect on the progress made over the last decade in expanding market access to these nations.

Ten years ago, in response to tightening European Union (EU) restrictions on citrus black spot, the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGA) and the government embarked on a journey to enhance trade relations with BRICS nations. The goal was to broaden market access, stimulate job creation, and bolster export revenues within the country’s citrus sector.

Subsequently, South Africa’s citrus exports to China, Russia, and India have grown from 25 million (15 kg) cartons in 2018 to over 30 million cartons in 2022, constituting 19% of all citrus exports in 2022. While China and Russia have become significant destinations, exports to India remain limited due to access challenges and high import duties. Oranges make up most of the citrus basket exported to these countries, with grapefruit, lemons, and mandarins also being imported in larger quantities.

India and China were identified as key export destinations due to their significant populations, collectively accounting for 36% of the world’s inhabitants. Recognizing the potential, discussions ensued on overcoming barriers obstructing South African citrus entry into these markets.

A milestone achievement since 2013 has been the signing of a revised lemon protocol between South Africa and China in 2021. This six-year effort exempted lemons from current regulatory requirements for false codling moth, given that the pest is not a host for the varietal. With local lemon production projected to increase by 175,000 tonnes by 2024, this protocol solidified China as a critical new market. It facilitated an additional R325 million in export revenue and 800 new jobs in the citrus industry.

Historically dominated by Argentina and Chile, Southern Hemisphere lemon exports to China are anticipated to be surpassed by South Africa, exporting 25,000 tonnes of lemons by 2024. This growth builds on the surge in citrus shipments to China, which reached 477,974 tonnes last year.

Citrus exports to Russia also experienced growth. Since 2018, exports have increased by approximately 20%, with shipments totaling around 12 million cartons in 2022, up from 10 million in 2018. Although the Russian-Ukrainian conflict had some impact on citrus volumes shipped to the region, higher input costs due to the conflict had a more substantial effect. Fertilizer prices nearly doubled in the past year, and agrochemical prices rose by an average of 50%. Fuel and freight costs also rose, posing additional challenges for growers’ profitability.

However, the Indian market has posed persistent challenges. Despite its attractiveness due to population size and counter-seasonal citrus yields, limited progress has been made in accessing this market. High tariffs (35%) imposed on South African fruit entering India have hindered competitive pricing. Moreover, a requirement disallowing in-transit cold treatment of fruit has hampered citrus exports to India. While there is untapped potential in the Indian market, these barriers must be addressed. The CGA hopes for discussions between the South African and Indian governments during the BRICS summit to address these issues.

As the citrus industry envisions growth and export revenue of R60 billion annually by 2032, optimizing, expanding, and retaining key markets worldwide is essential. The CGA remains dedicated to collaborating with the South African government, embassies, authorities, and industry peers to facilitate market expansion.

Amid increasing protectionist measures by the EU, the potential offered by BRICS market access opportunities becomes even more critical. By tapping into these markets, the South African citrus industry can fortify its sustainability, profitability, and job creation efforts.

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