The International Trade Commission is studying the canned fruit industries of China, Greece, and Spain to help U.S. canned fruit producers to better understand their competitors.

The U.S. House of Representatives called for the investigation last December, at the urging of the California and Pacific Northwest pear industries and the California canned pear and fruit cocktail industries, which are facing competition from cheap imports.

China is a major supplier of canned pears to the United States, and volumes imported continue to increase.

Until a few years ago, China primarily supplied large cans to the institutional food sector, but is now shipping large volumes of consumer-size packs, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

The House of Representatives’s Ways and Means Committee asked the ITC to provide an overview of the canned fruit industries in the United States and the major supplier countries, including acreage, volumes processed, and consumption. It also wants information on imports and exports of canned fruits, and on trade practices and government programs affecting production in the competing countries.

The ITC will compare strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. and competing foreign canned fruit industries and report back to the House of Representatives by December this year.

Powers said it’s been difficult to find out about the canned pear industry in China because of a lack of transparency in that country, and the pear industry hopes that the investigation will show the impact that foreign competition is having on U.S. fruit producers and farmers.

"That’s really what this study is about—trying to understand the competitive forces that are going on," he said. "The objective is to better understand what our competitors are up to and to understand the forces of competition."

If the study reveals that unfair trade advantages are at play—such as product being brought into the country illegally or dumped—then the industry could ask the government to take action, but the study is not linked to any antidumping investigation, Powers stressed.

One of the industry’s main goals is to reinforce within the U.S. government the sensitivity of the canned pear industry to imports because it does not have alternatives to the domestic market. The world’s major markets for canned fruit are the United States and the European Union, and consumers in China don’t eat canned fruit at all.

"They started their industry completely with a view to export, whereas the United States started this industry to fill the domestic consumer’s needs," Powers said.

If demand on the domestic market is being filled by overseas producers, U.S. pear producers will go out of business, he warned.

The investigation will address only the economic impacts, and will not consider food-safety issues, he said, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has assured the U.S. canned pear industry that imports are being inspected.

"We certainly hope that the U.S. government is checking all imported foods for contaminants, and we believe they’re doing so," Powers added.