YAKIMA, Wash. — The president of the Washington Apple Commission is hopeful for progress in reopening China as a market for U.S. apples but says key annual plant health and safety talks between the two nations are being jeopardized by the U.S. government shutdown.
Bilateral phytosanitary talks between the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and China’s Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine are scheduled for the week of Nov. 4 in China.
But the U.S. government shutdown for lack of a budget is jeopardizing APHIS plans to attend, Todd Fryhover, Apple Commission president, told his board members at a meeting in Yakima on Oct. 10.
APHIS is looking at Oct. 17 as a deadline for deciding if it can go, he said.
Fryhover said he’s optimistic about the issue because of the level of interest by Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator of APHIS; by Gary Locke, U.S. ambassador to China and former U.S. Commerce secretary and Washington governor; and by Gov. Jay Inslee, who has a trade mission to China set for Nov. 11-18.
El-Lissy plans to spend two extra days at the talks because he understands the importance of establishing relations with his Chinese counterparts, Fryhover said. El-Lissy seems sincere in trying to move the issue forward if he sees an opportunity. That is positive because lower level APHIS officials seemed less interested, Fryhover wrote in a memo to his board.
“I would caution optimism and pessimism as well on the bilateral,” Fryhover told the board, noting it could take several months after the meeting to work out any agreement.
Fryhover said he, West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers Inc., and Cass Gebbers, president of Gebbers Farms, recently met with Locke “who is an apple guy.”
Inslee’s trade mission will be mainly about technology and planes but the governor will also talk about apples, Fryhover said.
China stopped importing U.S. apples Aug. 9, 2012, citing detection of post-harvest diseases that its wants kept out of its own apples, but Washington industry officials believe the real reason for the closure was to pressure the U.S. into accepting Chinese Fuji apples into the U.S.
China has only accepted U.S. Red and Golden Delicious and proposed resuming those with a protocol of incubating 300 samples from every grower lot for 20 days to look for disease, pruning back crabapple trees used as pollenizers and removing leaves from orchards.
The conditions were not justified and impractical, Jim Archer, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters, the industry’s point trade organization on the issue, has said.
Washington apple shipments to China were down 94.6 percent for the 2012-2013 sales season, finishing at 22,111 boxes, Fryhover said. The prior season was 408,000 boxes and the peak was 975,825 boxes in the 2006-2007 sales season, he said. Coupled with Hong Kong, it has been close to 3 million with potential to reach 5 million if access is achieved for all Washington apple varieties.