CHELAN, Wash. — Washington exported a record number of apples to Mexico over the past season, approximately 15.5 million boxes, but it’s not likely to repeat that in the new season.
The industry is still waiting to hear if Mexico will impose any duty for alleged U.S. apple dumping in Mexico in 2013. That’s just one factor that could slow sales. There’s also a larger domestic crop in Mexico, fewer Washington Red and Golden Delicious to be shipped to Mexico and a stronger dollar that lessens foreign buying power.
“This year probably will be down drastically for us. They buy a lot of Goldens and our Goldens (industry-wide) are down 3.5 million to 4 million boxes,” said Tom Riggan, general manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, one of the larger exporters to Mexico.
Instead of 15.5 million, 40-pound boxes of apples, Washington more likely can expect to ship 11 million to 12 million boxes to Mexico this season, Riggan said. Goldens, Reds and Gala are the main varieties.
Following a 40-day phytosanitary cold treatment, early shipments will begin in late October or early November. Heavy shipments are usually January through April after the Mexican domestic crop is mostly sold out.
Last Dec. 4, the Chihuahua apple growers association, UNIFRUT, filed a claim in the Mexican federal register alleging U.S. shippers, mostly from Washington, sold apples in Mexico in 2013 at less than fair value, damaging Chihuahua growers.
That’s unlikely because 2013 was such a profitable year, Fred Scarlett, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters in Yakima, has said. NFE is a nonprofit corporation managing export procedures of apples and cherries.
More than 40 Washington apple packers responded to a Mexican Ministry of Economia questionnaire by a Feb. 13 deadline and 12 were chosen for further review to determine if they would be assessed a duty. Those not chosen could be assessed a weighted average of the 12 if there are duties, Scarlett has said.
A preliminary determination was first thought possible in April or May. That slid to July or August.
“We’ve been told by our legal counsel that they (Mexican Ministry of Economia) are close to a preliminary decision. We’ve heard that two or three times over the past couple of months,” Riggan said, adding Chelan Fresh Marketing is one of the 12.
Riggan said he doesn’t know what to expect but that if a duty is imposed it could last a number of years.
Keith Mathews, CEO and general manager of First Fruits Marketing of Washington, in Yakima, said Mexican consumers are more quality oriented than they once were and eat more produce and seek more than the basic U.S. consumer does.
“So I hope Mexico continues to be an important market for us,” he said.
“Whether delay is a positive or negative is a matter of speculation,” Scarlett said. “We have attorneys in Mexico who are in contact with the ministry. The ministry is pretty confidential.”