The art of agricultural diplomacy – Philippines market opportunities for SA Citrus exports

News that the Philippine consumers will be tucking South Africa’s citrus in the 2021 season has been welcomed across all boards.

The South East Asian markets are known to be heavily contested with Mexico, Spain, US and Australia having a lion’s share of the cherry.  

According to the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), fruit imports in Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam have been growing at an average rate of 20% annually in the last three years.  

“They are among leading growth markets for fresh food globally, posting double digit consumption growth between 2010 and 2015,” it said.

According to Mono Mashaba, Market Specialist at Fruit SA (FSA), the Philippine market could potentially absorb 10 000 tons each of SA’s soft citrus and oranges.

Mashaba said FSA continues to further strengthen relations with the Philippines, for the inclusion of table grapes and pome fruits in the coming two years.

It then begged the question; how did the local citrus industry manage to permeate through this stiff market?

Citrus Growers Association (CGA) Chief Executive Officer Justin Chadwick said the process was long with the industry heavily investing in research to access markets such as the Philippines.

“The South African Embassy, and especially outgoing Ambassador Martin Slabber, were instrumental in trying to keep the process moving. Many role-players have played their part, and it is a relief to be ‘over the line’.”

Mashaba, a former agricultural attaché in China with fluency in Mandarin, was an important cog in the fruits industry arsenal.

“To understand the international success of the fruits industry is to follow the specialised skill and performance of Mashaba in these trade forums and negotiations,” said a current diplomat based in the Ivory Coast who worked with Mashaba in China. 

While in China, Mashaba was instrumental in finding local partners for Hortgro and CGA members.

“Imagine bigwigs like Justin Chadwick and Anton Rabe being told by Mashaba that only he will be doing the talking while they all had to do was just nod and eat what he ate. It was hilarious then, but I think after frustrations with accessing Chinese markets, they had to learn the nuances of diplomacy very quickly,” said the diplomat.

Diplomacy by its form was a long arduous process with back and forth changes. For the citrus industry, it took them 11 years of campaigning to access such a market.

“The South African citrus industry has an objective of increasingly diversifying export markets – in particular reducing reliance on the European market, and increasing opportunities in Asia. The Philippines is an attractive market with big population, growing middle income class, diet rich in fresh produce. The Philippines was therefore one of the target markets,” said Chadwick.

During the 2109 season, the citrus industry exported 127,5 million 15 kg cartons and has already in the current season exported 143.3 million cartons.

 “At this rate, it stands to earn the country no less than R20 billion in foreign exchange,” said Mashaba.

According to FASA the Philippine as a new market presented an export potential of 20 000 tonnes of citrus and export earnings of about R205 million annually.

CGA was however upbeat and admitted that the Philippines market would ensure that revenue stream is maintained and grows in the future. “It takes some time for new markets to develop – as networks and relationships are forged, supply lines understood and consumers educated,” said Chadwick.

Mashaba and his team at FSA were already engaging the Chinese Plant Health Authority on market access for avocados.

“And with the support of Minister Thoko Didiza, the industry also hopes to expedite signing of the pear and lemon protocol between SA and China before the end for 2020. As for India, FSA continues to lobby for improved market access conditions for SA pome and citrus fruit”

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