The limited number of the border crossings into Croatia and short working hours of the phytosanitary offices for the inspection of fruits and vegetables exported from BiH into the EU caused heavy losses to producers. The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project supported request of the private sector to rectify the situation.

Due to the relatively short working hours of the phytosanitary offices at the two border crossings from BiH into Croatia, designated for the export of fruits and vegetables from BiH to the EU, in the first two and a half weeks of July, trucks carrying mainly cucumbers and plums were held up at the borders for up to three days. This has led to the deterioration of the product quality and financial losses of some EUR 100,000.

The issue is now resolved. But this is how it evolved.

First signs of trouble

"On March 1, 2019, the EU introduced the regulation on the mandatory phytosanitary certification and inspection of fruits and vegetables imported from BiH. Croatia started applying this regulation in September 2019. It designated only two border crossing at which such inspection would be done, Stara Gradiška and Nova Sela, i.e. Bijača,” said Suad Selimović from the Association of Agricultural Producers and Food Industry.

The phytosanitary offices at the two border crossings into Croatia were open Monday to Friday, from 7:00 to 15:00 hrs.

“Already in September 2019, we asked the BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations to intervene with the Croatian authorities to extend the working hours, introduce Saturdays as working days, and open more border crossing for export of fruit and vegetables,” said Selimović.

"Back then we experienced some problems with the export of the late harvest plums. What happens at the border is the following. The phytosanitary inspectors will receive paperwork, i.e. our phytosanitary certificates until 13:00 hrs, and those who do not manage to submit their paperwork have to wait till the next morning. It takes inspectors some half an hour to inspect a set of documents for one truck, plus they have a break. When a bigger number of trucks come to the border, the crossing gets clogged, and then our problems begin.”

Approaching the authorities

The BiH producers of fruits and vegetables approached the previous and the current state-level government on several occasions with the request to intervene with the Croatian authorities and enable uninterrupted export.

"We wrote two or three times to the previous government, and at least twice to the current government, but we got no answer. Having learned from the problems we had with the export of plums in September 2019, we knew that we would have problems this summer. We knew that our trucks could not cross the border in a timely fashion and that we would suffer losses," explained Selimović.

According to Selimović, due to the clogged border crossings, over the last two weeks, the BiH producers lost a cumulative of three truckloads of plums and two truckloads of cucumbers valued at EUR 100,000.

The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project supported the request of the BiH producers. Together with the BiH Foreign Trade Chamber, the project produced the analysis of exports of fruit and vegetables from BiH for the last three years. The report illustrated that from BAM 188 million exported in 2019, 61 percent or BAM 115 million was for the EU markets. It also showed that the exports peak in July and August, reaching BAM 22-23 million a month, with monthly quantities between 10,000 and 12,000 tons, which translates into 500 to 600 truckloads a month. These figures confirmed that the requests of the BiH producer were justified, and as such, they were presented to the BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations (MOFTER) supporting the request letter.

On July 9, 2020, the meeting was organized between the relevant institutions including representatives from FARMA II, USAID, and the producers, and it was agreed to promptly ask from the Croatian side to address this problem and ease the export of BiH fruit and vegetables. At the same meeting, the BiH producers introduced an ultimatum to block borders towards Croatia if the situation did not change.

Positive outcome

The BiH institutions intensified contacts with the Croatian authorities and in the late afternoon on Thursday, July 16, a positive response was received. The phytosanitary offices at Stara Gradiška and Nova Sela border crossing will work from 7:00 to 19:00 hrs. Monday to Friday, and 7:00 to 15:00 hrs. on Saturdays (­).

When Selimović heard this news he sighed: “We did it.”

Selimović was happy with this development, but he was still a bit skeptical. On July 16 he said: “We will monitor the situation closely now and see how things function. We need to be sure that Saturdays are also the working days for phytosanitary offices at the borders. We need this information to know if we can respond to shipping requests on Saturdays as well." A few days later, at the begining of this week,he confirmed that all was in order.

Though the situation was tense, and there were loses, there is also a silver lining. According to Selimović, the production of plums and cucumbers in BiH has doubled in comparison to the last year and the domestic producers had a chance to increase the exports compared to the last year. The other competitors from the region and the EU did not do so well, so the BiH products are in high demand. The faster flow of goods should now contribute to the BiH product reaching as many foreign customers as possible. “Right now, our buyers are asking for a truckload more of our plums and other products, and we are happy to deliver,” concluded Selimović.