A new environmental and also economic havoc of globalization: Hundreds of thousands of tons of mandarins and clementines rot at the foot of the fruit trees in the Valencian, Catalan, Murcian and Andalusian fields due to the insurmountable commercial competition of South African late citrus, favored by an agreement with the European Union that exempts them from customs duties until November 30 of each yeardate that coincides with the beginning of the harvest of the Spanish early production.
Mandarins and other South African citrus already enjoyed free access to the EU between June 1 and October 15, but the agreement that entered into force in 2016 extended the tariff exemption period. In addition, under the treaty, the tax that these imports pay the rest of the year, of 16%, It will gradually decrease until it disappears completely in 2025.. It should be noted that South Africa is already the second world producer of oranges, only behind Spain itself.
The consumer buys pieces harvested months ago from 8,000 km away
The Valencian farmers denounce that this point was hidden in a lengthy document of 2,500 pages and for this reason it went unnoticed by Spanish government officials and MEPs. In the vote of the Eurocámara, eight deputies from the PP and one from UpyD supported the trade agreement as a whole, and nine others from the PSOE abstained. The remaining 36 Spanish representatives voted against.
And, in this context, the large European (and Spanish) distribution chains have opted for mandarins, clementines and oranges from the southern hemispheremuch cheaper, compared to those of national (or at least community) production, which has flooded the supermarkets of the continent of African fruit for another year this autumn and has left the native harvest on the trees, from which it goes directly to the ground, because it would cost more to pick it up than to let it go to waste.
Every summer, huge quantities of citrus enter the EU that can be stored in storage rooms and continue to be sold once the duty-free import period has ended, which sinks the Mediterranean production, which begins to be harvested at the end of the year. Due to its long-distance transportation and this need for refrigerated storage, carbon and environmental footprint of this fruit that, on the other hand, is cheaper due to low wages and lower food safety requirements in origin is enormously greater than that of proximity. For the same reasons, its quality and nutritional values also suffer: the consumer ends up buying some pieces collected months ago to more than 8,000 km. away.
Low wages and fewer health requirements
Given the miserable prices that were offered (from a third lower to half those of the previous campaign, depending on varieties, and up to ten times lower than what the consumer pays), farmers on the Levantine coast and other parts of the country have chosen not to pick the mandarins and clementines, which had passed a difficult test with the waterlogging of the fields last autumn, and which are now slowly decomposing in the soil of the farms. And, as in previous years, the same could happen shortly with oranges. As an act of protest, Asaja-Córdoba will carry out on February 8, at 11:00 a.m. a free delivery of oranges on the Boulevard del Gran Capitán in the provincial capital.
Some farmers have sold off the harvest so as not to lose everything, while others even they started uprooting the trees thinking of replacing the crop or even dedicating the plots to another activity. According to data from the agrarian unions, almost 30,000 hectares of citrus have been abandoned in the Valencian Community during the last decade due to the crisis in the sector, but also due to the lack of generational relief.
In the province of Castellón alone, the Valencian agricultural union Union of Farmers and Ranchers, which represents most of the sector, estimates that between a third and 40% of the mandarin harvest could be lost, which is equivalent to about 220,000 tons of the more than 500,000 planned. Spain produces between 2.2 and 2.5 million tons of mandarinswhich are mostly exported to the rest of the EU, where the South African tardies are also closing their doors.
The chains offer the producer up to 10 times less than what the public pays
Faced with this situation, the Spanish government announced a first measure in December, consisting of Withdraw 50,000 tons of citrus from the market to turn them into juice that will be distributed free of charge to disadvantaged groupsa measure financed with 12.5 million European funds considered positive by farmers, but clearly insufficient to deal with the debacle of the sector, which the Unió de Llauradors estimates that it had caused until last month losses amounting to 130 million euros65% attributable to the entry of South African fruit (and the rest, to torrential rains in autumn).
According to the terms of the document, a possible modification of the free trade agreement with South Africa should wait at least until three years after its entry into force, which would be fulfilled next October. Meanwhile, farmers’ associations are calling for direct aid to farms that avoid “a massive felling of orange trees” this year. The aid system called ‘de minimis’ whose application they request would mean the payment of 15,000 euros per farm to be distributed over three exercises. They also ask for a law like the French one, which establishes that the prices they must charge for fruit must be proportionate to production costs.
For its part, the Generalitat Valenciana has begun to talk with the unions about a Strategic Plan for the sector that plans its future and its viability in 15 years and that could include measures such as an expansion of trade missions to open new markets, incorporate more staff to the office installed in Brussels to act as a permanent ‘lobby’, ‘de minimis’ aid of up to 15,000 euros to each farmer who demonstrate a drop in income for weather or business reasonsaid for the recovery of damaged trees on farms flooded by autumn rains and subsidized loans from the Valencian Institute of Finance.
A similar situation is being suffered by the citrus sector in Turkey, which had become one of the world’s top ten citrus producers and one of the five largest exporters. Thousands of tons rot there every year, and thousands of day laborers are left without work because of the derisory prices paid by the market for the fruit, which is sold to the public at a price 6 to 10 times higher than what producers receive.
In the globalized market economy, the misfortune of some means the benefit of others: South Africa has reached its export record with two million tons of citrus. According to data from South African publications in the sector (such as that of the Citrus Growers Association) collected by the Spanish employers’ association, to reach half a million tons it took 60 yearsreaching a million cost him 31 more years, for a million and a half it only took 12 years and growing the last half million, up to two million tons, has been achieved in only six campaigns.