Other countries eating into U.S. market share
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Washington apple growers should urge their congressional delegation to push the Obama administration harder for free trade agreements because U.S. apples are losing market share in some countries, the Washington Apple Commission president says.
"Other countries are more aggressive in establishing free trade agreements and we are losing ground," commission president Todd Fryhover said.
Colombia and Egypt are examples, he said.
"We are sitting on our hands on getting a free trade agreement in Colombia while others are going in and signing," he said. "Our numbers are off 50 percent from last year, and we had perfect (sized apples) for Colombia."
Last year, Washington shipped 587,585, 40-pound boxes of apples to Colombia and this year it "won't be remotely close to that," Fryhover said.
Shippers are hampered by a 20 percent tariff while neighboring Chile, a strong apple producer, ships apples into Colombia duty-free, he said.
"Colombian consumers like our fruit and think it's better, but they don't want to pay $5 more per box for it," he said.
Off-setting seasons help. Colombia buys fresh Washington apples and some six months later fresh Chilean apples.
The European Union signed a free trade agreement in Egypt, gaining an advantage for its apples there over the U.S., which is still faced with a 20 percent tariff, Fryhover said.
"Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iran all grow lots of apples so they go in duty-free as well. There's a lot of competition," he said. "But it's a good market because we can compete with anyone on quality."
Washington shipped 585,589 boxes of apples to Egypt last year. As of Jan. 31, it was down just 4.3 percent from a year ago. However, imports are probably dropping with the riots threatening to topple President Hosni Mubarak, Fryhover said.
"Importers are getting nervous and ports are slowing down," he said.
Fryhover talked to growers about the global apple market at the Washington State University Extension North Central Washington Apple Day Jan. 18 at the Wenatchee Convention Center. He urged growers to contact 4th District Congressman Doc Hastings and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to ask them to push for free trade agreements.
"I told the growers that 10 years ago there were over 4,500 of them in the state and now there's about 2,200. There's a message there," Fryhover said.
Every market is increasingly important, industry leaders have been saying in recent years, as larger crops are expected.
The industry tracks apple shipments to more than 27 countries. Mexico, Canada and Taiwan have always been the big three import markets but Taiwan is slipping and Indonesia, China and India are gaining.
Washington ships about 10 million boxes annually to Mexico, 5 million to Canada, 2 million to Taiwan and less than 2 million to each of the others.
China, India and Indonesia are gaining because of growing middle classes with disposable income, Fryhover said.
Chile is a competitor in China, he said.