Wool ban lifted but citrus jobs at risk

South Africa’s wool industry has had a potentially ruinous export ban lifted, but citrus producers are still fighting a European Union rule change that could spell disaster for exports to their biggest market.

Wool producers and the South African government are delighted that China – which takes 70% of the country’s wool clip – has rescinded a ban on South African wool.

The ban was imposed because of outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, but South African officials believed it was unnecessary because existing protocols agreed by the two countries should satisfy Chinese veterinary requirements.

The decision ends what Food for Mzansi described as “five anxious months of a virtual export standstill”, with one season’s clip not yet exported and the next clip about to happen.

Wool exports are worth about R1 billion annually. It is produced by 8000 commercial sheep farmers and come 40 000 communal smallholder farmers who contribute about 14% of the country’s wool exports.

Jobs have been saved in the wool industry, but they remain at risk in the citrus business. New EU regulations, requiring extensive (and expensive) post-harvest cold treatment to deal with false coddling moth, were published on 21 June 2022 and came into force three days later, while shipments of SA oranges were on their way to Europe.

Urgent negotiations managed to free up some of the consignments held in EU ports, but the delay of several months has cost citrus growers R200 million and the fruit that is released will not fetch high prices. South African producers have insisted that their protection measures are adequate, and voiced suspicions that the EU ban is meant to protect Spanish citrus growers. And they are worried about future consignments.

In an article republished by Moneyweb, three academics also cast doubt on the validity of the decision. While they agreed that pest-control measures were necessary, they called the new regulations “unfair and punitive”.

The three, led by Simon Roberts, Professor of Economics at the University of Johannesburg, said the new requirements “will only mean diverting scarce resources and imposing new costs on growers, threatening the long-term sustainability of the industry,”

Clearly, there is a long fight ahead, with possibly thousands of South African jobs at stake.