With the 2007 crop numbers fresh in our minds, why would the Washington Apple Commission be looking ahead to the 2008 crop?

Diligent work continues on the execution of promotional campaigns internationally through the commission’s 13 in-country representatives working with retail and wholesale in 51 countries to remind, convince,
and even introduce fresh crop Washington apples to –consumers.

As our industry continues to mature, evolve, and grow, planning is the critical component for the continued success of Washington’s grower returns in the future. Increasing apple consumption in the domestic market is not a directive of the Apple Commission any longer, but is our primary market for approximately 70 million cartons each season. International marketing and promotion remain the commission’s focus, and looking ahead to 2008 is imperative.

In December, I took the opportunity to investigate new and emerging markets in northern Africa as well as integral apple destinations in the Middle East. Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, and Algiers are markets with good potential for Washington apples in the near term. Last season, Morocco imported 25,577 cartons of Washington apples, up 52 percent from the previous season. Under the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, the tariff will be eliminated in 2015, but will remain at 36.4 percent when apples arrive outside the duty-free time period of February 1 through May 31. The quota for duty-free imports into Morocco during the duty-free period is set at 2,163 metric tons, or approximately 113,506 cartons of apples, after which the 36.4 percent tariff applies.

Through a grant from the Emerging Market Program (EMP), the Apple Commission will host up to 12 Moroccan importers in the fall of 2008 to enhance their knowledge of our industry and meet future suppliers. By the use of programs such as EMP, we are able to welcome future importers of Washington apples at virtually no cost to the grower.

As one can imagine, Algiers and Libya must be evaluated from afar due to the difficulty in obtaining visas to travel into these countries. However, as has been the situation in Libya for many years, traders can be resourceful when it comes to making a profit and satisfying consumer demand for any product, legal or not. Much of this peripheral business is controlled through Egypt, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates, three other –destinations for my December travels.

Egypt and the UAE remain very important markets to Washington’s apple growers. The UAE imported just over 1 million cartons of Washington apples in 2006, becoming our seventh-largest market. Egypt was another success in 2006 with 377,830 cartons imported, up almost 80 percent from the previous season. The potential for both the UAE and Egypt to increase consumption is there with continued promotion at retail and wholesale markets.

More than 55 countries import Washington apples. Looking ahead to 2008, each market requires continued research, development, and implementation of Washington Apple Commission promotions. Focusing ahead is important not only for today, but also for what we can’t see or predict—our future crop volumes.