Inside a bitter battle over SA blueberries, which ended up being seized in Rotterdam
- A battle between an Australian owner of blueberry cultivars, and a South Africa farming group, has been raging over recent weeks.
- Two blueberry shipments from South Africa were confiscated by Dutch authorities after the Australian company contended that its rights were violated.
- After a settlement, the shipments have been released - but neither party is bowing down.
- For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Almost a month ago, two shipping containers with South African blueberries were seized by the European Union custom authorities in the Rotterdam harbour.
This after the Australian fruit exporter United Exports, which owns the OZblu blueberry cultivar, reported the South African company Ross Berries, which exported the blueberries, to the authorities for violating its plant breeders’ rights.
United Exports, which grows blueberries on its farms in South Africa, also sells blueberry cultivars to South African farmers. Ross Berries had a licencing agreement with the Australian company until May this year to produce blueberries under its name, but then ended the licence, Netwerk24 reported.
According to the publication, United Exporters contended that Ross Berries was breaking the law by exporting blueberries, because it was using United's registered cultivars and not paying a levy on the sales.
But Willem van Heerden, legal representative of Ross Berries, told Netwerk24 that United Exports only had approved plantbreeders’ rights for two of the nine cultivars that Ross Berries had on its farm. In an interview with Landbou.com, he claimed Ross Berries bought the two cultivars it was officially registered. The Western Cape-based Ross Berries is part of the Rossouw Farming Group, which is owned by the family of former Springbok Chris Rossouw.
Since the confiscation of the blueberries, the two parties issued harsh public accusations, and the bitter feud was covered by fresh-produce industry publications across the world.
The companies finally reached a settlement this week, which saw the release of the two shipments.
Van Heerden told Landbou.com that the settlement was reached without United Exports being able to prove any wrongdoing by Ross Berries.
But for its part, United Exports said that the suggestion that the settlement was a “a victory for blueberry growers is patently false, and misunderstands the legal and commercial consequences of violating United Exports’ proprietary rights”. It believes that the settlement showed that Ross Berries now recognised its plant-based intellectual property rights, and United Exports' rights over its OZblu proprietary varieties. “This is an important step forward for the protection of intellectual property rights in South Africa.”
United Exports has agreed to allow Ross Berries to sell the blueberries from the remaining few weeks of the 2020 season to "avoid unnecessary food wastage".
The companies will enter into arbitration in March next year.
Local farmers who are licence-holders of United Exports have complained to Netwerk24 that the company precludes local farmers from buying other cultivars than its own.
For its part, United Exports said its OZblu blueberry varieties are the result of a big investments in research and development which has been conducted over more than three decades.
South Africa exported more than a R1 billion worth of blueberries last year, an increase of more than 50% from the previous year, FreshPlaza reports. Half of the fruit goes to the UK.
United Exports accounts for some 30% of SA blueberry exports.
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