I have talked about the immediate threat of the excessive increases in apple production from Washington State and went so far as to say that while we worry about foreign imports, we need to be acutely aware of our own domestic production numbers. While many may shudder to see Washington State and China in the same sentence or compared to each other in any fashion, the fact does remain that an extra 30 to 35 million bushels of fresh apples, from anywhere, is a threat to a profitable apple market.
Recently, I attended the Fruit Logistica Trade Show in Berlin, Germany, which is listed as the largest fresh fruit expo in the world, attracting over 55,000 visitors. The U.S. Apple Export Council shared in a USA Fruit booth, showcasing non-Washington State apples along with USA pears and grapes.
Adjacent to our booth were, of course, the Washington Apple Commission and a number of individual Washington apple shippers, who also had a large presence at the show—as they should! Just about every known apple and apple-producing area had representation there, and they are all vying for markets around the world.
Buyers from across the world attend this show, and unlike U.S. trade shows, this setting does generate sales, orders, and new market relationships. If you want to sell in the world market, this is the place to be. A number of the large Washington shippers/exporters have huge export programs and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars marketing their apples to faraway customers. God bless them, and if there is anything we can do to help that cause, sign us up! Some of them spend more than our yearly budget here at the New York Apple Association! Any increased sales of Washington apples that go west from Seattle are good for us!
Speaking with Washington Apple Commission folks, as well as Washington growers and marketers, the story that was repeated the most was, “If you think 130 million bushels is a lot, just wait!” The new norm could be 145 million and up. No one is boasting or bragging about what is to come; they are all just stating facts. And then, of course, there is the rest of the country’s production.
With this said, at the same time we are all scratching our heads over what could be, a number of political issues exist that could have enormous effects on the market. One such volatile and controversial issue is Washington’s request to the People’s Republic of China to legally allow more varieties into China. Currently, only Red and Golden Delicious apples can be shipped, while other varieties, such as Gala, Grannies, Braeburn, and Cripps Pink, are being smuggled into the mainland through the grey market. This, of course, restricts open sales, increases prices, and limits the volume. In order for Washington producers to increase their export sales to China, they need full access to the market. To put it another way, in order for Washington to increase overall export sales by 30-plus million cartons a year, to offset rapidly increasing production, they cannot do that without full access to China.
The Hong Kong market, which is the destination for the shipments that eventually end up in the Chinese grey market, ranks number six in volume. Having legal varietal access to China could easily bump the volume up to the Mexican or Canadian levels. Of course, with approved access to China comes the tradeoff, which would be, without a doubt, Chinese access to the U.S. market with fresh apples. Just recently, the U.S. pear industry received clearance to ship pears to China, and they are ecstatic. Yes, China grows pears. At some point in time, and possibly in the near future, I truly believe that the U.S. apple industry (in addition to Washington) will have to make a stand, or state a position about supporting open access to China for U.S. apples.
We have, in the past, had a firm position opposing any importation of Chinese apples into the United States based on the sound science that Chinese apples would increase the threat of disease and pests that are not currently in this country and could cause severe damage to our growing areas. We stand solid on this position.
But soon, China will put forth claims on how they will mitigate those risks and would be able to protect the spread of pests and diseases into our country. Whether we believe them or not, if and when the claims can be substantiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the entire issue will take on a new look. Many strongly believe it is only a matter of time before those claims will be made and proven for APHIS to say, come on in!
Meanwhile, Washington needs to sell more apples to China. So, as the Allstate man says, “Where do you stand?” Do we help Washington gain access to China, realizing that would certainly accelerate Chinese apples into the United States? Do we stand tough against China and Washington, saying no to both? And finally, the worst case scenario is that our government welcomes China in, while they continue to keep us out!
Of course, it is not our decision, is it? If it becomes a real political issue, New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have 61 House votes; Washington has 11. Something to think about.