WENATCHEE, Wash. — Pacific Northwest apple and pear exports to Russia could be hurt if the U.S. imposes sanctions on Russia over the situation in Crimea and Ukraine.
Russia is an important market and losing it on top of losing China as an apple market would not be good, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee.
U.S. or European banking, oil and natural gas sanctions against Russians could result in retaliatory sanctions by Russia against U.S. products, including apples and pears or more likely would result in a weakening of Russian currency to the point Russians could no longer afford to buy Northwest fruit, Fryhover said.
Washington exported 378,288 boxes of 2012 crop apples to Russia, has exported 540,000 boxes there of the 2013 crop so far and likely will top 600,000, Fryhover said. The record was 921,558 in 2007-2008.
“Freight alone gives us a disadvantage to apples supplied from Poland and Ukraine, but Western Russia likes our larger-sized apples,” he said. That’s why exports are up compared to last season because “we have more large-sized fruit,” he said. Western Russia likes Washington Red and Golden Delicious and Granny Smith while Eastern Russia likes more varieties and small to mid-sized apples, he said.
November through March is when Russia imports most of its Washington apples, slightly behind its import of Northwest, pears, Fryhover said.
“We’re planting more apple trees and so are New York and Michigan, so every export market it critical,” he said.
The Northwest will come close to surpassing an old record of more than 500,000 boxes of pears into Russia this season, said Jeff Correa, international marketing director of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland.
“Sometimes we benefit from being under the radar, but we will keep a watch,” he said. “It’s a political chess game right now. Russia is our third largest export market this year. We definitely don’t want to lose it.”
Meanwhile, Washington’s apple industry is trying to regain access to China while Northwest pears are enjoying their first full season of shipments there. The Northwest has shipped 174,000 boxes of pears to China so far this season and probably will finish at 180,000 which is more than The Pear Bureau estimated, Correa said. China opened to U.S. pears for the first time in February 2013.
China accepted U.S. Red and Golden Delicious apples in 1993, but closed that market in August, 2012, citing detection of post-harvest diseases that it wants kept out of its apples. Washington industry officials believe the real reason was to pressure the U.S. into accepting Chinese apples.
Washington officials were hopeful the market would reopen in January after USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack voiced optimism of regaining access for U.S. apples, citrus, beef and poultry in December after a meeting in Beijing.
But the Chinese sought a protocol of testing that the industry deemed undoable and the process broke down, Fryhover said.
Industry officials are talking to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to work toward a solution in time for next season, he said.
Washington typically shipped about 500,000 boxes of apples annually into China before the closure and 2 million more through Hong Kong.