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It’s been almost two decades since the U.S. pear industry began pushing for access to China, but it finally appears that the market might open during the 2012-2013 season.

“This has been a long-term effort to gain access for pears,” noted Mark Powers, vice president at the Northwest Horticultural Council. “It’s taken many years to get to the state where we’re at, and part of that whole process was getting pears ­prioritized by our own government and getting them to move forward.”

Access for U.S. pears into China will be tied to access for Chinese sand pears into the United States. China is already allowed to export Ya and Fragrant pears to this country. Sand pears are Asian-style pears and are crisp, unlike the European pears produced in the United States. U.S. access to China should be for all European pear varieties.

TreeTAC, the tree fruit industry’s Technical Advisory Council, is evaluating the plant health risks associated with the potential importation of sand pears. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a notice in the Federal Register on the proposal to allow imports of sand pears. The comment period ended ­February 14.
Meanwhile, the industry is also evaluating the feasibility of mitigation measures that China has proposed for U.S. pears. China’s concerns are the risks of fireblight and codling moth, which it claims it does not have. Powers said the industry is working with the U.S. government to propose alternative measures that will protect China against pests and diseases but at the same time allow commercial trade to occur.

Negotiators at a bilateral meeting last November intended to have an agreement in place by March or April this year, he said. Whereas the U.S. regulatory process is fairly rigid in terms of how it moves forward, the Chinese approval process is more flexible.

“We’re hoping that the process will allow for pears from the United States from the 2012 crop to be exported to China,” he said.

There are a number of steps that have to occur, he added, but the two governments appear to be working towards the goal of reciprocal access by the fall.