Mark Powers is vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Mark Powers is vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Jim Black

Fruit exporters should gear up to label cartons destined for Malaysia in the Bahasa Malaysia language starting August 1, says Mark Powers, vice president with the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Initially, the government of Malaysia announced a January 1, 2011, implementation date for the labeling regulation, but it was postponed until July 1. The Hort Council helped arrange for four officials from the Malaysian Ministry of Agriculture to visit fruit packing houses in Washington this spring to learn about the industry’s grading, packing, and labeling processes and the potential impacts of the regulation. Following the visit, the Malaysian government announced that the regulations would be delayed until August 1, which Powers said would be a help to the cherry industry.

The industry has requested changes to the regulation, but labeling likely will be required, Powers said. “Packers need to gear up to do this. We made a case for allowing the importers [to] put the label on the carton once it arrives in Malaysia, but it’s unlikely that will happen.”

The labeling requirement will be difficult, but not impossible for Northwest fruit shippers to meet, he added. Packers will have to buy printers so they can affix labels to cartons on the loading dock, rather than on the packing line. The labels must indicate the size, grade, weight, and variety of the fruit.

“It can be done, but it adds cost, and there’s always a chance for mistakes matching up labels with the correct cartons,” Powers said. “It’s not as simple as slapping a sticker on each individual carton.”

Translations

Complications are that Malaysia often takes mixed loads of different varieties and grades of apples and pears, and that few, if any, people in the industry understand Bahasa Malaysia. Packers will need to work with importers on the translations and might need to print labels in both English and Bahasa Malaysia so that their employees can match them to the correct cartons before shipping.

The regulation applies to all countries exporting to Malaysia, and was probably designed to target other countries, such as China or Thailand, rather than the United States, Powers said. Malaysia is seeing an influx of tropical products from other countries in the region and possibly implemented the regulation intending to make it more difficult for them to bring products in.

“I think their concerns are targeted at China and other countries in the region, but they’re hesitant to do something that just targets one of those countries,” he said.

The four Malaysian officials were invited to visit the Pacific Northwest by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. They were accompanied by two FAS staff people, one from Malaysia and the other from Washington, D.C. One of the objectives was to let the officials see how fruit was graded and inspected by the Washington State Department of Agriculture so that they could have confidence in the system.

“I think that was successful,” Powers said. “They are going to defer to our grade standards, which will be ­helpful.”

The labeling regulation is part of a bigger movement in Asian countries to revise trade regulations to match what’s happening globally, Powers said. Countries that are members of international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization or Codex, and face restrictive regulations when exporting to Europe or the United States, for example, might feel they ought to put ­regulations in place themselves.

Recently, Vietnam said it was amending its phytosanitary regulations and doing a new pest-risk assessment for apples, pears, and cherries from the United States, Powers said. “We’ve been able to export there for years without having to do anything specific, but now, as they revise all their rules and regulations, we’ll see.”