By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Foreign market access continues to challenge the Washington apple industry as it prepares for another fall harvest and year-long sales season in which every export market may become more crucial than ever before.
If this year's crop is in the 120 million- to 125 million-box range, the industry may have a harder time finding export homes for about 11 million boxes of apples than it did in the past season when crops were light in Mexico, Canada, Europe and the U.S. East Coast, says Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission. Those areas are expected to return to normal crops this year, providing more competition for Washington's apples, he said.
Meanwhile, China remains closed to U.S. apples, Indonesia is virtually closed and Europe could close by January or March.
The commission, which supplements Washington tree fruit companies in apple export promotions, discussed market access at its July 16 meeting in Ellensburg.
In a subsequent interview, Fryhover said China and Indonesia remain the biggest long-term concerns because they have the best potential for future growth.
China stopped importing U.S. apples last Aug. 9, citing detection of post-harvest diseases that its wants kept out of its 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, said Jim Archer, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters, the industry's point trade organization on the issue.
A counterproposal was made through the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, but China did not respond to that and asked the Washington industry to reconsider its original proposal, Fryhover said. NFE and Washington tree fruit companies are doing that now, he said. The issue may be discussed at bilateral phytosanitary talks between the two governments expected to occur in China in late September, he said.
Season-to-date shipments to China are down 94 percent at 20,935 boxes as of July 15 compared with 350,836 a year ago, Fryhover said. Shipments to Hong Kong are down 10.7 percent from 2.1 million to 1.8 million boxes, he said. An unknown amount enter China from Hong Kong via a "gray market," he said.
Combined, Hong Kong and China have been a 2.6-million-box market annually, sometimes more, with the potential to reach 5 million, Fryhover said.
Sales to Indonesia are down 36 percent so far this season, from 2.1 million to 1.3 million boxes while 2.5 million is the annual norm and there's room for growth, Fryhover said. The decline is due to a series of import restrictions, the latest of which is a ban on any apples over six months old, he said. That means loss of an important late season market in July, August and September of prior-year Red Delicious, particularly small grade, he said. Indonesia is pursuing protectionist policies for its own agricultural crops but has no apples, he said. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative initiated a challenge in the World Trade Organization in January. But that takes time, he said.
U.S. apple and pear exports to Europe have been declining for years because of tight limits on pesticide minimum residue levels (MRLs) and food safety concerns. Apples dropped from 1.3 million boxes in 2006 to 423,000 boxes in 2011 and pears from 282,000 boxes in 2007 to 78,000 in 2011, the Northwest Horticultural Council has said.
With even tighter MRLs set to take effect the market it will be impractical for shippers to ship there after Jan. 1 but that may get extended a month or two, Fryhover said.