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Representatives from Chinese fruit importers are visiting Washington and Oregon to learn about the region’s cherries and pears. <b>(Geraldine Warner/Good Fruit Grower)</p>

Representatives from Chinese fruit importers are visiting Washington and Oregon to learn about the region’s cherries and pears. (Geraldine Warner/Good Fruit Grower)

Ten representatives from Chinese fruit importing companies are visiting Washington and Oregon this week to learn more about Pacific Northwest apples and pears.

The Chinese market opened to all varieties of apples last spring and Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, believes that China could be the third-largest market for Washington apples in the near future after Mexico and Canada.

Last season, about 3 million cartons of Washington apples, worth over $53 million, were exported or transshipped into China.

The Apple Commission and Northwest Pear Bureau are jointly sponsoring the trade mission, bringing buyers from major importing companies in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Dalian.

During their visit, the importers met with Northwest packers and exporters.

“We’re also taking them to packing houses and orchards, so they can learn about the industry and see it first hand,” said Rebecca Lyons, the commission’s international marketing director. “There’s really no substitute to going out and seeing with their own eyes what makes Washington apples so great.”

Philander Fan, the Apple Commission’s representative for Hong Kong and China who accompanied the importers, said he was optimistic about increasing shipments to China now that new varieties are available to tempt consumers.

“We were only able to ship Golden Delicious for the past 20 years,” he said.

Washington’s iconic Red Delicious is still popular because of its typey shape and deep red color, but Chinese consumers are interested in other varieties, such as Gala and Granny Smith, which were transshipped into China before direct shipments were allowed. Consumers would probably like Honeycrisp, too, he said, but the prices are too high.

While the United States was shut out of the Chinese market from 2012-14 because of sanitary concerns France gained a foothold with Gala and Granny Smith apples. But Fan said Washington is perceived to have consistently higher quality in terms of shape and color.

In the off season, from March through September, New Zealand is the main supplier with varieties such as Pacific Beauty, Gala, Fuji, Jazz, Sonya, and Envy. Chile and Australia also export apples to China.