South Africa’s citrus industry, which looks set to export a record 160 million cartons this season, has its first shipment of produce heading to the Philippines. Commodity exports, grown or mined, are leading the economic recovery.

The first fruit destined for the Philippines was inspected last week in Durban, Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa, said in his weekly newsletter.

“While export volumes will probably be modest as we test the market and develop the demand for South African citrus, the goal is to build up to 20,000 tonnes exports to the Philippines – this will secure much needed jobs in South Africa, and lead to additional foreign exchange earnings,” Chadwick said.

Unlike the soft citrus that is currently filling up the produce sections of supermarkets, the layers of bureaucracy involved would not be easy to peel.

Citing Citrus Research International, Chadwick said there “were 32 official technical engagements between the two countries” over the 12 years it took to finalise the protocol.

So it took over a decade and laborious “technical engagements” before South Africa could start exporting citrus to the Philippines. How can it be so difficult to hawk fruit?

Still, this is another bit of good news on the commodities and export fronts. South Africa’s trade balance is in a healthy surplus, its terms of trade in robustly positive territory. This is mostly because of surging prices for platinum group metals and iron ore.

But agriculture is also playing a role. And the domestic citrus sector has been growing briskly, with a record 146 million cartons exported last year. A range of factors are behind this, including boosted demand for vitamin C products. A bumper maize crop is also expected this year.

Considering the gathering clouds over the investment climate, such as the uncertainties around expropriation without compensation, this is an impressive achievement and dovetails with the government’s stated objectives of export-led growth.

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