TUNISIA – The discovery of Citrus Black Spot (CBS) in Tunisian citrus imports has marked a significant turning point in the country’s agricultural landscape.

Initially detected in 2019 in the governorate of Nabeul, the disease has rapidly proliferated, infiltrating citrus-growing regions across Tunisia.

These alarming spread challenges previous assertions regarding the adaptability of CBS and raises concerns for both local farmers and international trade partners.

For years, South Africa contended that CBS could not thrive in climates akin to those in Spain. However, the disease’s emergence in Tunisian orchards debunked these claims, prompting a reassessment of its potential reach and impact.

The rapid escalation of CBS’s presence beyond Nabeul to areas like Sousse indicates the urgency of addressing this agricultural threat.

The escalation of CBS in Tunisia coincides with South Africa’s appeal to the European Commission (EC) for WTO consultations. This appeal aims to contest EU regulations barring the importation of fungal-infected citrus.

Inmaculada Sanfeliu, President of the Citrus Management Committee (CGC), emphasizes the necessity of stringent control measures and questions the scientific credibility of South African exporters and authorities.

A recent scientific article, published in the Journal of Phytopathology, highlights the gravity of CBS’s proliferation in Tunisia.

Transparent investigations conducted by Tunisian authorities reveal the widespread damage inflicted by the disease, accentuating the phytosanitary and economic risks posed to EU citrus-growing regions.

These findings align with EFSA scientific opinions and current European regulations, which aim to safeguard against CBS and its economic repercussions.

Economic impact and regulatory compliance

Studies by the Valencian Institute of Agricultural Research (IVIA) emphasize the Mediterranean basin’s climatic suitability for CBS development.

This revelation, coupled with global precedents indicating the resilience of the disease, underscores the challenges of eradication once CBS takes hold. The necessity of frequent fungicide treatments, as evidenced in affected countries, poses logistical challenges within the EU’s regulatory framework.

The economic ramifications of CBS’s establishment in EU citrus-growing areas are substantial, with projected losses totaling approximately 1,182 million euros.

Despite regulatory measures, recurrent non-compliance with import regulations persists, as evidenced by increasing interceptions at European ports.

In response, Inmaculada Sanfeliu highlights South Africa’s motives behind its WTO actions, raising questions about the future of Mediterranean citrus production and the Spanish lemon sector’s involvement.

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