Nov 26, 2014
China lifts ban on U.S. Red, Golden Delicious

In October, China reopened its borders to Red and Golden Delicious apples from Washington state, lifting a ban that had been in place for more than two years, according to the Washington Apple Commission (WAC).

The timing could not have been better for the Washington apple industry, which is expecting its largest crop ever – 162 million bushels, according to a U.S. Apple Association (USApple) forecast made in August – and needs access to a huge market like China.

“This year, with our record crop, Chinese consumers will again have the opportunity to enjoy Washington apples, and our growers will have access to this important growth market,” said Todd Fryhover, WAC’s president. “Clearly, China has great potential for Washington apples, with an increasing middle class willing to purchase high-quality apples.”

As an example of China’s potential, Washington growers – who produce more than 90 percent of U.S. apple exports – shipped more than 3 million 40-pound cartons of Red and Golden Delicious (the only varieties allowed) to China during the 2010-11 marketing year, which made it the industry’s fourth largest export market that season, according to WAC.

According to USDA, the Chinese market was worth $6.5 million to the Washington apple industry in 2011.

Shipments of Washington apples were halted in August 2012, however, when Chinese officials refused to issue permits to Chinese importers, citing concerns with a recently discovered fungus they claimed was not in China, according to WAC.

According to USDA, Chinese officials were concerned about three apple pests they consider significant: speck rot, bull’s-eye rot and Sphaeropsis rot.

After more than two years of negotiations and a recent inspection of U.S. orchards by Chinese officials, China agreed to reopen its borders if Washington agreed to improve its horticultural, packing and sampling procedures, according to WAC.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) worked with the U.S. industry to develop the additional measures sought by the Chinese, which include cold storage and visual inspection of apples prior to shipping to ensure there is no evidence of disease, according to APHIS.

Jim Bair, president of USApple, said regaining the Chinese market is important, but so is expanding U.S. access to that market to include all apple varieties from all states.

U.S. and Chinese officials plan to meet in San Francisco in January, where full varietal access to China – as well as Chinese access to the U.S. market – will be a major topic of discussion, according to USApple.

Full access

Even though Chinese officials claimed that the ban on U.S. Red and Golden Delicious apples was due to phytosanitary concerns, some in the U.S. industry suspected the ban was being used as a lever to pry open the U.S. market – a market the Chinese fresh apple industry has been trying to crack for more than a decade. The Chinese inched closer to their goal in July, when APHIS published a proposed rule to allow the importation of Chinese fresh apples into the continental United States.

As the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of apples, China has long been seen both as a threat and an opportunity by the U.S. industry. Lately, many in the industry have been focusing more on China as an opportunity, and are open to Chinese fresh exports – but only if U.S. growers get full varietal access to China.

China produced 38 million metric tons of apples in the 2012/13 marketing year, which dwarfs the 4.1 million metric tons produced by the United States – the No. 2 producer – in the same period, according to USApple.

But China’s domestic demand has reached at least 37.5 million metric tons – almost as many apples as it produces. The country exported only about 3 percent of its 2012 crop, according to APHIS.

If China is allowed to export its fresh apples to the United States, APHIS expects no more than 10,000 metric tons per year. Using 2012 numbers, that would equal roughly 5 percent of U.S. imports and 0.44 percent of U.S. fresh production. Meanwhile, U.S. growers are challenged by relatively flat domestic apple consumption and stand to gain much from open access to China’s huge fruit-consuming market, according to APHIS.

Matt Milkovich

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