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Mark Powers

Mark Powers

The U.S. government has issued a proposed rule that would allow China to export fresh apples to the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service published the rule in the Federal Register on July 18 and will accept comments until September 16.

After reviewing the comments it will announce a decision, possibly as early as October when U.S. and Chinese officials will meet in San Francisco for bilateral talks. The proposed rule outlines the general requirements for shipping apples to the United States (see below). A final rule would need to be issued.

Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said a workplan describing the requirements in more detail would be drawn up once access is granted.

There are 21 pests found in China that APHIS considers of quarantine concern. The Tree-Fruit Technical Advisory Council (TreeTAC) has been involved in the pest risk assessment for imported Chinese apples. It’s an industry group made up primarily of scientists around the country with a range of expertise on tree fruit pests and diseases.

Pests considered to pose the most risk if introduced into the United States include the oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis), the leaf miner Leucoptera malifoliella, and the brown rot species Monilinia polystroma and M. fructigena.

Dr. Jim McFerson, chair of TreeTAC said the group does not take a position on whether Chinese apples should be imported or otherwise. Rather, it provides objective, scientific guidance. “We’ve been reviewing the process all along with APHIS,” he said. “We find it a slow, laborious, but good process in which we feel our input is valued, and is considered, and is incorporated into their plan.”

Comments

Although APHIS’s decision will be based largely on the technical and pest-risk aspects of importing Chinese apples, Powers encourages U.S. apple industry representatives to provide comments. Along with the rule, APHIS has issued an economic analysis showing the impact of allowing Chinese apples into the United States.

China is the world’s largest producer and exporter of apples. It exports to 67 countries, primarily in Russia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Chinese apples have been exported to Canada for the past decade. During the 2012-13 season, Canada imported 242,000 cartons of apples from China, according to Global Trade Atlas statistics. In its analysis, the USDA estimates that no more than 10,000 metric tons (half a million boxes) of apples would be exported from China to the United States annually, which would be about 5 percent of U.S. apple imports.

Most of the apples would likely be shipped to West Coast ports, primarily in California, which is the largest market for Washington apples. The effects of Chinese imports would be borne mainly by Washington and California apple growers, particularly those producing Fuji, which accounts for 70 percent of China’s production.

China’s 4.3 million apple growers together produce about 10 times more apples than U.S. growers. China exports only about 3 percent of its production (1 million metric tons).

In comparison, the United States exports about 30 percent of its fresh crop (889,000 metric tons).

The USDA states that it expects China to export a relatively low volume to the United States for the following reasons:

• Prices for fresh apples exported by China to markets similar to the United States are relatively high.

• China has more limited varieties.

• There is robust demand for Chinese apples in China. The USDA states that while the prospect of China obtaining market access in the United States is of concern to the U.S. apple industry, U.S. trade groups have acknowledged the importance of fostering stable bilateral trade with China.

It suggests that the proposed rule could provide additional trade opportunities for the two countries. Powers said people can comment on the analysis. “Anyone with a sales or economic background might want to take a look at that and look at the assumptions that APHIS used,” he suggested.

Apples to China

The U.S. apple industry is hoping that during the October bilateral talks, China will agree to allow access for all varieties of U.S. apples into China. So far, China has only accepted Red and Golden Delicious apples and even those have been shut out for the past two seasons because of China’s concern about decay found in the fruit. (See related article.)

Chinese inspectors are scheduled to visit the United States in mid-September, which should be the last hurdle to reopening the market this year for Red and Golden Delicious apples and ultimately to opening the market for all varieties. Powers said the industry is hoping that the U.S. government won’t grant access to Chinese apples unless it is reciprocated.

As long as it’s two-way trade, there’s a feeling that U.S. apple producers can compete with China because of the high quality of fruit they produce.

“We don’t see them as a huge threat coming into this country, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be an economic impact,” he said. “The message we’re sending to APHIS is we have to have viable access to China. If we don’t have that, we can’t compete and the cost/benefit analysis is very different. If we can’t ship into China, they can’t ship into the United States—it’s as simple a message as that. We have to have the kind of access that allows for commercial volumes to be shipped to China and if we don’t have that, we don’t want Chinese apples coming in here.”

The U.S. apple industry can only influence its own government and can’t know what Chinese regulators are doing, he pointed out. “Our calculations on the economics are based on our ability to export commercial volumes to China and if we can’t do that, we’re the end losers on the deal.”

Proposed requirements for imported Chinese apples:

• Only commercially produced apples can be exported.

• Orchards must be registered with the Chinese national plant protection organization.

•Apples must be bagged individually on the tree by the time they reach 2 cm (…. Ins) in diameter. This is a common practice in China.

• Fallen fruit must be removed from orchards weekly.

• Packing houses must be registered and mark boxes so that fruit can be traced back to the orchard.

• Packers must remove all leaves and any damaged or infested fruit.

• Apples must be washed and waxed.

• Apples must be inspected for pests and diseases.

• Apples produced south of the 33rd parallel must be fumigated and refrigerated as a treatment for the oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis).

• If brown rot (Monilinia fructigena or M. polystroma) is found in an apple shipment, the orchard will not be allowed to export for the rest of the season.

The proposed rule and supporting documentation can be found at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2014-0003, where comments can be made.