The United States and China are each hoping the other will grant permission to export pears.
The United States has been requesting access to China for U.S. pears since the 1990s. On its part, China already ships two varieties of pears—Ya and fragrant pears—to the United States but wants access for the more widely grown Nashi Asian pear (known as sand pear).
The requests were discussed during bilateral talks in Shanghai this summer, but without any resolution, reports Dr. Mike Willett, vice president of scientific affairs at the Northwest Horticultural Council, who attended the meeting.
China is the world’s largest pear producer, with more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) and annual production of 13 million metric tons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. China processes about 7.5 percent of its pear crop and exports about 3.75 percent of its fresh pears, mainly to Asian markets. More than 80 percent of China’s pear production is in varieties other than Ya and fragrant pears.
China has not appeared eager to open its markets to pears from other parts of the world. Willett said it’s thought that the only country it has an agreement with to import pears is New Zealand, which is not a very large pear producer. It is in the process of drawing up an agreement to allow access for Belgian pears.
Willett said that although China does not lack pears, the U.S. pear industry sees potential for shipping red European pear varieties, such as red d’Anjou, which China doesn’t produce.
“I think there’s quite a bit of interest in exporting red pears to China because none of the varieties they grow have a red skin,” Willett said. “Ya, fragrant, and sand pears all are a brownish to yellow color.”
Jeff Correa, director of export promotions at the Pear Bureau Northwest, said he regards China as the next bigpotential market, with a chance of significant volumes going to major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. He thinks it could develop into a 250,000-box market within five years of opening, and 100,000 boxes of those could be red d’Anjou.
Correa said he’s basing his assessment on pear exports to Taiwan and Hong Kong. The Northwest exports about 75,000 boxes annually to Hong Kong, of which perhaps 15 to 20 percent go into other parts of China. Taiwan used to be the biggest market in Asia for U.S. pears, taking 500,000 boxes annually. However, since Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization, U.S. pears have been displaced to some degree by cheaper competition from Korea and China.
Potential consumers in China are upper-middle-class people, for whom buying western-style foods is a status symbol, and affluent consumers who prefer to buy imported foods, which they consider safer than Chinese foods.
Pest risk analysis
The procedure for negotiating access requires that the prospective exporting country provide pest risk analysis documents to the importing country listing all the pests that are known to occur on that crop. The importing country then has its experts examine the list and use other sources of information to add to it. The exporting country will then respond regarding pests of concern.
The United States government has provided China with the pest risk analysis documents for U.S. pears. China’s main concern was the risk of fireblight, but the United States submitted results of research done by Dr. Ken Johnson at Oregon State University showing that the risk of fireblight being transmitted on mature pears is extremely low.
Willett said it is hoped that, barring significant problems or protocols that the industry can’t live with, an agreement could be signed in time for U.S. pears to be exported during the 2010–2011 season. More bilateral talks will probably be held next summer.
Since China has not submitted pest risk analysis documents to the United States for the export of sand pears, the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service has developed a list without assistance from China, Willett said, and China will need to respond before access for sand pears can be granted.
Ya pears are grown primarily in Hebei and Shandong provinces in eastern China, and fragrant pears come mainly from Xinjiang Province in western China. Sand pears, of which there are many varieties, are grown throughout China and this increases the scope of the pests that might be encountered in the various growing areas, Willett said.
The U.S. pear industry’s position is that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Service needs to do a thorough risk assessment and ensure that any imports that come in from China do not pose a risk to domestic pear production, Willett added.
Ya pears have been imported into the United States since 1997, but imports were temporarily halted during the early 2000s after numerous shipments contained pears showing symptoms of fungal diseases. Imports were allowed to resume under a new protocol designed to prevent infected pears from being shipped.
In 2007, China shipped 15,500 metric tons of fresh pears to the United States. Indonesia was China’s largest market, taking more than 95,000 tons, according to the USDA’s Global Agricultural Information Network.