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The European ban on South African citrus imports looks likely to be extended into the southern hemisphere’s 2014 export season, which starts in April.

Scientists from the European Food Safety Authority announced on Friday that they view existing trade restrictions, aimed at preventing citrus blackspot entering the EU, as relevant.

Their Pest Risk Analysis report will be discussed later this week by the European Standing Committee for Plant Health, which will decide whether or not to extend trade restrictions enforced at the end of last year’s growing season in South Africa.

The South African Citrus Growers Association has previously described the issue as “critical” and said the development was “not what the industry had hoped for”.

South Africa normally sends 600,000 tons of citrus to Europe every year, which represents one-third of European imports.

CGA chief executive Justin Chadwick said he would wait for CGA scientists to analyse the EFSA report before issuing a detailed response.

He added: “The industry is committed and ready to comply with the EU’s import requirements. Cognisant of the importance and impact of this report, the industry has already prepared the 2014 crop in anticipation and is fully prepared to continue supplying the citrus fruit that European consumers desire, in total compliance with EU plant health regulations.”

CEO Chadwick has described the issue as  potentially “industry-ending”. As reported in The Coolstar, the CGA has recently hired former diplomat Deon Joubert to build bridges with European authorities.

A European Commission spokesman told The Coolstar that the commission would maintain the ban on imports of citrus plants and citrus fruit with leaves. The ban on fruit without leaves will be discussed by the standing committee over Thursday and Friday this week.

A statement from the EFSA said: “Were current controls and restrictions to be lifted, EFSA’s plant health experts conclude that there is a high risk that [citrus blackspot] would enter the EU via import of citrus plants intended for planting and citrus fruit with leaves. This risk applies to all citrus species – including oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruit and limes – as the spores produced by this fungal pathogen on leaves can be dispersed by air.

“There is a risk that P. citricarpa would enter the EU through the import of citrus fruit without leaves, because spores produced on fruit peel can be dispersed by rain splash.”