The measure at issue is the import restrictions imposed by the EU on citrus fruit from South Africa.
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In particular, the EU imposes phytosanitary requirements relating to Thaumatotibia leucotreta (
codling moth) on the importation of South African citrus fruit.
Until recently, South African citrus fruit was freely imported to the EU provided that it was subject to an effective systems approach or another effective post-harvest treatment to ensure freedom from false codling moth.
Accordingly, South Africa developed an effective systems approach, the "Citrus Systems Approach". Oranges and other citrus products have been exported from South Africa to the EU without significant problems under this systems approach.
Recently, the EU has made abrupt and radical changes to the applicable phytosanitary requirements for the importation of oranges and other citrus products from South Africa.
As of 14 July 2022, the EU now requires, for the first time, that imports of citrus fruit must undergo specified mandatory cold treatment processes and precooling steps for specific periods (up to 25 days of cold treatment) before importation.
In cases, these processes must be conducted in the exporting country before the consignments are shipped. These phytosanitary requirements apply to all imports, irrespective of whether the importing Member has an effective systems approach like South Africa's "Citrus Systems Approach" or has another effective post-harvest treatment to ensure freedom from false codling moth.
The EU's new requirements impose significant changes on the importation of citrus fruit. The EU, however, only provided a 23-day period for implementation of these new requirements. Moreover, these changes are being introduced in the middle of the export season, making implementation even more difficult and time-sensitive.
In addition, there are numerous shipments of citrus fruit en route to the EU with phytosanitary certificates issued between the entry into force of the measure and its date of application, that is, from 24 June 2022 to 14 July 2022, which are based on the EU's then prevailing requirements and South Africa's existing systems approach.
These shipments will reach the EU after 14 July 2022, by which time the EU's new phytosanitary requirements will apply.
The extremely short 23-day period for implementation1 did not allow sufficient time for producers in South Africa to adapt to the EU's new requirements and for South Africa's National Plant Protection Organization (Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development) to have a certification procedure in place that would be adequate to certify compliance with the new requirements.
South Africa has significant concerns as to whether the overall changes to this regime are justified.
The new EU's requirements are not based on science, lack technical justification, are discriminatory, and are more trade-restrictive than necessary to achieve their objective, among other things.
This is the first-ever WTO dispute settlement case initiated by South Africa. The request was circulated to WTO members on 29 July. ■