By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Exports of Washington apples to Indonesia are down 50 percent for the season -- and 70 percent since November -- with the only apparent recourse being through the World Trade Organization, the Washington Apple Commission was told.
Closure of China is another big issue.
Indonesia is pursuing protectionist policies against imports of many items from many countries as it heads into its 2014 presidential election, Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, told apple commissioners March 28.
Season-to-date sales to Indonesia as of March 15 was 575,000 boxes of apples versus 1.1 million a year ago while 2.5 million, mainly Red Delicious, has been the annual norm, said Todd Fryhover, commission president. The policies involve quotas, licensing and cold storage mandates on importers, all of which violate free trade, he said.
The policies also have hurt U.S. table grapes, citrus fruit and frozen french fries.
Diplomacy hasn't worked so the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in January initiated a WTO consultation, which was unsuccessful in February, Powers said. Now the USTR is seeking a WTO panel, and resolution could take more than a year, he said.
Indonesians produce no apples and like smaller Red Delicious, for which U.S. marketers need customers, Fryhover said.
Indonesia, China and India have great potential because of their growing middle classes who want quality, he said. China's middle class is about 500 million people, he said.
China cut off imports of U.S. apples last August alleging post-harvest diseases.
When Chinese officials visited Washington in December they found some disease symptoms in orchards and some disease in packing sheds, said Jim Archer, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters.
"In my opinion these are not serious quarantine issues. There is no question they were present in some loads but in every interception I've called the packer who said there had been no problem with samples," Archer said.
"The notices came a month after the fact and the Chinese did not reject the fruit," he said. "So it's a mysterious process and I think (related to) their effort to get their Fuji in here (accepted into the U.S.). It's as simple as that."
Had there been legitimate issues the Chinese would have done something years ago, he said.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has made a counterproposal to China's proposal to reopen the market. APHIS has requested full U.S. varietal apple access into China and may have a pest risk analysis done this fall in the process of potentially allowing Chinese Fuji into the U.S., Archer said.
Archer and Fryhover said they discussed the issue with Rebecca Bech, a deputy administrator of APHIS, a week earlier in Washington, D.C.
"She said China has dug in and their primary issue is access for their apples," Archer said.
"China is an unknown. We know demand and money is there," Fryhover said. "No one in this room can tell you what the future is today."