Kawamura takes California campaign to Asia

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura (right) promote Californian pistachio nuts and almond during the California Gourmet Festival in Hangzhou, east Chinas Zhejiang Province, Sept. 11, 2010. (Imaginechina via AP Images)

By RICHARD SMITH

For the Capital Press

TOKYO -- California Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura is at the mid-point of an Asian trade mission with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote the state's industry.

Stops include China, Japan and South Korea.

A primary purpose of the mission is to seek interest in California's high-speed train industry, but Kawamura was also promoting his state's agricultural products.

Kawamura has been food and agriculture secretary since 2003. His family grows strawberries, green beans and other specialty crops in Orange County, Calif.

He spoke in Tokyo Sept. 14 with Tokyo-based correspondent Richard Smith.

Q: What special California crops are you looking to promote?

A: We are always looking to promote all our 400 crops: fruits, vegetables and nuts. On this trip we have seen wonderful growth in the export markets. A good example: In the past five years in China alone, pistachio exports have gone up from $5 million to $70 million. Part of that is due to the development of distribution systems able to pack, market and distribute the product. Another is the increase in consumption by the rising income level in Asia in general. We are also promoting California wine. It's part of the California lifestyle.

Q: How are you dealing with sanitary and phytosanitary and maximum residue level issues?

A: I think the greatest challenge comes from the new and safer pesticides used all over the world, and in the U.S. and California. In Japan, Taiwan and China, if they are not in the MRL guidelines, they are refused. So the challenge will be to redefine the regulatory processes in Asia with a science-based acceptance of new generation crop tools.

Q: What is the status of bringing California rice to Japan?

A: We continue to be under a quota system in Japan, but with a significant decrease of rice from other countries such as Australia, we think the strength of our good relations will open the door further. Japan has invested in a rice mill north of Sacramento and is recognizing business with California is not only good economically, it's good for food security.

Q: Do you see California exporting more crops to Japan in the future?

A: Yes. I believe there are new products Japan is still learning to eat, like avocado, Brussels sprouts and olive oil. California olive oil is world-class. And don't forget California wine.

Q: What crops are good candidates?

A: Nuts. Pistachios, walnuts, almonds. Dairy products, including acquiring taste for different kinds of cheese. Berries, including blueberries, which we didn't have before. We're seeing opportunities for green and leafy vegetables. Citrus and grapes continue to be in great demand here. And don't forget California wine.

Q: What do you talk about with the trade officials you meet?

A: We tell the people we are trying to look for more opportunities to grow demand for California product. With the ATO (U.S. Agricultural Trade Office) people, we ask they continue working on SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) issues to make acceptance for California products grow. Looking at the wheat shortage in Russia because of drought and the flooding in Pakistan, the strategic alliance with different countries over food security is as important as any discussion regarding climate change.

Q: What about immigration?

A: Our governor has always asked for immigration reform. Ag jobs have been a focus of the industry for many years.

Q: Anything else?

A: Our success has been to invest in the higher predictability of our harvest outcome. Almost 90 percent of the value of California crops comes from irrigation and predictable weather.

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