Sources of the Citrus Management Committee (CGC), the association that brings together the main Spanish private exporters, have been trying to find an explanation for the presence of Egyptian oranges in Spain when the campaign is still on-going and, beyond exceptional cases, they blame the “aggressive price policies” that Egyptian exporters have been enforcing in recent years, and which are “increasingly affecting Spanish oranges, which are unable to compete at those levels and with those costs.”
Prices at destination
The Valencia Late, for which Valencian growers receive between 0.30 and 0.50 €/kg, arrive from Egypt at that same price, but at destination; that is to say, including the handling, transport and marketing costs.
The impact of this is even more prominent in oranges of lesser quality, calibre and external condition (but with a high juice content), which are usually those intended for the supply of snack bars. “Those will usually demand low, stable prices, and in the last stage of the campaign, there has been a sharp rebound in prices at origin, making it perhaps more profitable to bring Egyptian oranges to Valencia than acquiring local fruit,” explained the same sources.
“European distributors are forcing us to become more and more restrictive in the use of phytosanitary products against pests or the post-harvest treatments needed to extend the fruit’s shelf life,” they explain. In any case, the “standards tend to be stricter for the Spanish production, allowing for a more regular and higher quality service and an almost complete elimination of waste, but occasionally more lenient when it comes to cheaper batches from third countries,” affirm the entrepreneurs.
Egypt has been recording sustained growth in its citrus exports, mainly of oranges, to the EU, which is the main destination for the Valencian and Spanish sector. The figures processed by the CGC reveal sales to the EU market of up to 270,000 tonnes in the last complete season (2015/2016), when only three seasons earlier (2012/2013) this figure barely reached 180,000 tonnes. Imports have therefore grown by 50%.
And this season, with a big harvest of Spanish oranges (which, unlike clementines, were not affected by the storms of November and December), this growth rate has accelerated even more, as until March, the EU imported almost 19% more tonnes of Egyptian citrus than in the same period last year. “We are waiting for the April and May figures, which will reflect the bulk of their orange season, but it is already clear that, by offering lower prices, they are gaining ground in the market, mainly in Eastern Europe, in countries like Bulgaria, Poland or Romania,” explained the representatives of the CGC. Egyptian oranges arrive via Rotterdam, where controls are known to be laxer and inspections (phytosanitary and quality) are in the hands of the Dutch importers themselves.
In October 2016, the Egyptian government offered 210,000 hectares in new cultivation areas as part of its effort to recover 630,000 hectares of marginal and desert lands in the southern Nile for agricultural use. Large companies, some of them with clear experience in exporting to Europe, have shown an interest in acquiring immense new areas for cultivation, many of them for the production of citrus.