Access to China for more U.S. apple varieties and fresh pears were topics on the agenda at the U.S.–China Plant Health bilateral meetings held in New Orleans in February, but no progress was made, reports Dr. Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs at the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Willett said U.S. growers would like to be able to export more apple varieties to China in addition to the Red and Golden ­Delicious that are already approved.

U.S. pears have not been allowed into China because of China’s concerns about fireblight. Last summer, the U.S. government submitted results of research done at Oregon State University that showed the risk of fireblight being transmitted on mature fruit was virtually nil.

"Our side has done everything we can to respond to requests that the Chinese have made to help them get the risk assessment done on pears, and now we’re just waiting for them," Willett said. "At this moment they’re still reviewing the information that we sent them regarding pears as a potential vector for fireblight."

China produces mainly Asian pear varieties. With the help of the Pear Bureau Northwest, Willett obtained some ripened d’Anjou pears that he arranged to have sliced and served to the participants during all the breaks at the bilateral meetings in New Orleans.

"The reports were that the Chinese liked them. They were juicy, and they tasted good," said Willett, who was not able to take part in the actual talks. "I think there’s some recognition on the part of the Chinese that European pears have a fit in the offerings that the Chinese might want to make, particularly because they have so many tourists. It makes sense to have those available."

Willett said he understands that China is close to approving imports of fresh pears from Belgium, where fireblight exists.

Usually, the Chinese negotiators like to have tradeoffs, he explained. "You do something for them, and they will do something for you."

The only tree fruit China has approved for import from the United States since it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 is fresh plums from California.

The challenge is that the Chinese are separating agricultural trade issues from broader trade issues, Willett said. They argue that they need greater access for their agricultural products because of the trade imbalance in agriculture, which is skewed in favor of the United States. China is seeking access to the United States for apples, sand pears, and cherries.

The next bilateral meetings will be in 2009.