Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean



Innovation and transport: a new citrus route emerges in the Mediterranean

In recent years, citrus growers in the Mediterranean basin have been waging a relentless war on export markets. The price of labour, export subsidies, fruit quality, bilateral trade agreements, transport and logistics costs, there are no holds barred.

Mediterranean citrus represents over 38% of world production. (Photo H.M)
Mediterranean citrus represents over 38% of world production. (Photo H.M)
Citrus is the world’s second-largest perishable commodity palletised and transported by reefer ships, just behind bananas.

Citrus is a lucrative trade for some Mediterranean countries. In the 2011-2012 season, Mediterranean citrus accounted for more than 38 % of world production, totalling 20.6 MT of a total production of 52 MT. (source FAO).

Historically, Spain is the dominant citrus producer in the market, ahead of Italy and Egypt. The country remains export leader with 3.2 MT exported from 5.5 MT cultivated. The old continent continues to account for 60% of Mediterranean production, although more and more operators are turning to non-EU markets, as those markets are more profitable.

If the United States and Canada remain major consumers, new opportunities are emerging for Mediterranean producers in Eastern Europe and Russia, two fast-growing regions.


Quality and new varieties

Egyptian citrus growers benefitted from export subsidies until this year. (Photo H.M)
Egyptian citrus growers benefitted from export subsidies until this year. (Photo H.M)
At the Rungis International Market, Banagrumes imports 10,000 metric tons of citrus annually, of which 7,000 metric tons are from the Mediterranean. For one of the leading traders at Rungis, the taste and visual appeal of the fruit are paramount. Juiciness, acidity, lack of seeds...these are the criteria that make all the difference which is why producers in Mediterranean countries are developing new varieties to meet consumer needs. “

Spain is my number one supplier. The citrus pallets are transported in refrigerated lorries. Some wholesalers opt for rail transport between Perpignan and Rungis. For five years, Israel has been developing the Orri, a variety of very sweet, fragrant clementine, on the market from February to April. The Israelis are also taking market share from the Spanish”, says Banagrumes CEO, Alain Alarcon.

This view is shared by Agruban, another Paris wholesaler, who admits to being a fan of the Orri, which comes to market late in the year. “These clementines arrive on the market after the Spanish ones. However, we are working with Spain, which is close enough to be considered a suburb of France. Delivery costs to Morocco and Turkey are more expensive”, says Agruban manager José Barbera.


Morocco is losing market share

Not far from the pyramids, farmers cultivate new citrus varieties. (Photo H.M)
Not far from the pyramids, farmers cultivate new citrus varieties. (Photo H.M)
Morocco has fallen behind in recent years despite efforts to improve varieties for the North American market. The citrus industry is no longer king. A lack of water resources, the splitting-up of the citrus promotion agency, the lack of government support for export, all these elements undermine Morocco’s presence abroad.

At the same time, Egypt’s fertile lands are beginning to produce high-quality citrus.

Not far from the pyramids, farmers cultivate new varieties of citrus. Citrus nurseries have been researching innovative methods to produce disease-resistant citrus plants.

In addition, new techniques are helping to increase yields from 9 to 12 metric tons per hectare in the Nile Delta. Organic products now form a significant part (4,300 ha).

Until this year, Egyptian citrus growers benefitted from export subsidies enabling the country to win new markets in South Korea, Iran and Sudan.

Even China, despite producing 10.2 MT of citrus in 2011-12, was forced to import owing to ever-increasing consumption. More than half of Egyptian exports are shipped to Asian and Arab countries, Russia and Ukraine.

Arab Spring reshuffles the cards

Turkey, the Mediterranean’s largest exporter of lemons and the world’s second largest, is playing a leading role. The Arab Spring has reshuffled the deck in this changing citrus market.

The governance of a country, the relevance and frequency of shipping services and the quality of terrestrial infrastructure all have a part to play in a country’s export dynamics. Multimodal logistics also play an important role. Turkey could do extremely well compared to weakened North African economies.  

(*) Fresh Fruit Morocco and Maroc Fruit Board

Special issue : A new citrus route emerges in the Mediterranean

Special issue in partnership with Medfel

Nathalie Bureau du Colombier, MARSEILLE

Thursday, April 18th 2013

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