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South African flower exports pruned back

SA’s flower exporters were continuing to battle weak markets with no signs of demand picking up yet in Europe, their biggest market, or an easing of cost pressures, René Schoenmaker of the South African Flower Exports Council said on Friday.

Latest available figures compiled by Futures Trust for the Flower Export Council from customs and excise trade data show that the value of SA’s flower exports in the first six months of this year fell 4,88% to R202,6m compared with the same period last year.

Hentie Boshoff, of Futures Trust, said last year was a very good year for flower exports. For the whole of last year the value of SA’s flower exports rose 26,3% to R524,1m compared with 2007.

Schoenmaker said the recession had taken its toll on the flower market and prices had dropped sharply.

By January, prices in Holland were 30%-35% below average. According to the Futures Trust figures, six countries in the European Union (EU) accounted for 68% of SA’s flower exports last year, and Schoenmaker said Holland alone was probably half of that figure.

SA’s main year-round export flowers are proteas and fynbos.

Although fuel prices had eased, airlines under financial pressure were raising freight rates, which was affecting exporters’ profit , and the strong rand was putting pressure on receipts, he said.

But in spite of tough trading conditions and various market disadvantages, SA’s flower exporters were surviving, Schoenmaker said.

SA was geographically well placed to export anywhere in the world, but it was also a long distance from the main markets. North America was mainly supplied by South American producers, while the Far East bought from the Pacific region.

Most countries supported their agricultural sectors, which SA did not, and other African countries were able to export to the EU without attracting import duty.

“It is amazing that we are doing as well as we are,” Schoenmaker said.

“SA is a very versatile country and although the going is tough without subsidies, those that survive without subsidies are stronger in the long run.”