Experts from the European Commission arrived on Thursday (7 July) at a problematic border crossing between Bulgaria and Turkey in an attempt to sort out long-running phytosanitary problems that are creating domestic and international problems for Bulgaria. EURACTIV Bulgaria reports.
The EU officials arrived at Bulgaria’s ‘Kapitan Andreevo’ border crossing to conduct an audit of the phytosanitary control of fruits and vegetables imported from Turkey. This was announced on Thursday (7 July) by the director of the Food Safety Agency (FSA), Hristo Daskalov.
The issue of food control along the Bulgarian-Turkish border is extremely important for the entire EU because after entering EU territory, Turkish fruits and vegetables reach customers throughout the bloc.
The import of cheap fruits and vegetables from Turkey has been cited as a major problem for Bulgarian farmers.
In particular, the pesticides in Turkish fruits and vegetables often go undetected because of a scheme put in place at ‘Kapitan Andreevo’.
The outgoing Deputy Minister of Agriculture Ivan Hristanov said that for 10 years, European diplomatic missions and government officials have been telling Bulgaria that until it solves the problems at the ‘Kapitan Andreevo’ border crossing, the country will not enter the EU’s Schengen passport-free area.
He described Bulgaria’s border crossing with Turkey as the most important land link in Europe and the second most important in the world, after the border between Mexico and the US, because it is the main land corridor between Europe and Asia.
Losses amounting to €500 million
According to Daskalov, Bulgaria’s budget has lost 1 billion leva (€500 million) over the last 10 years.
In the past two months, the state has regained control of the border and pesticide testing is now being done in a state laboratory. This has led to a fivefold increase in positive pesticide samples – up to 10% of all produce imported through ‘Kapitan Andreevo’.
Annual revenues for the state are expected to reach 100 million leva (€50 million). Until now, this money was collected by a private company contracted during the first government of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
More importantly, the scheme is collecting bribes from the importers to the EU, to the amount of hundreds of millions, some of the money being channeled to political parties.
“There were rumours, and those rumours turned out to be true,” Daskalov told Bulgarian national radio. According to him, the ‘Kapitan Andreevo’ scheme was the real reason why the political enemies of outgoing Prime Minister Kiril Petkov put down his cabinet following a no-confidence vote.
Before Petkov’s government took control of the border, the monopoly was granted with a 10-year lease to the private company Interpret Eurologistic while at the end of 2021 it was replaced by Eurolab.
At the end of last week, the Supreme Administrative Court took a final decision, seen by EURACTIV, rejecting Eurolab 2011’s request that contested the state’s decision to take over the control of fruits and vegetables entering from Turkey.
EU stakeholders complaining
Agricultural producers in EU countries have complained to the Commission and to their national authorities about the import of fruits and vegetables from Turkey containing active ingredients not authorised in the EU or exceeding the maximum residue limits (MRLs) authorised at EU level.
La Uniò, the farmers’ lobby of Valencia, Spain, is asking for the frequency of physical and identity checks carried out on Turkish fruit and vegetables to increase to 50% and also for an end to tariff asymmetry, pointing out that while Turkey exports to the EU with a tariff of 20%, Spain must pay a 54% tariff to export to Turkey.
Data from the first quarter of the year from the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reveal that Turkey continues to account for 60% of all rejections of fruits and vegetables because they contain active ingredients not authorized in the EU or for exceeding the maximum residue limits (MRLs) authorized at EU level, according to agricultural organisation of Valencia.
“In the first quarter, Turkey accounted for 180 alerts out of the 298 reported for all countries from which fruits and vegetables are imported. Moreover, the upward escalation of rejections of Turkish imports continued in March,” the organisation said in a statement.
“While in February there were 45 interceptions, last month that figure rose to 74. Citrus fruits were the product most frequently affected by the use and abuse of unauthorized pesticides, with 108 interceptions. The most frequently detected substance was methyl chlorpyrifos, or chlorpyrifos; an active substance that is banned in European territory.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Benjamin Fox]