WENATCHEE, Wash. — Washington state apple growers say they're happy about a series of developments this week that will reopen India to U.S. apples.
"This is very positive news," Todd Fryhover, Washington Apple Commission president, told board members at a meeting this week.
India's market closed to U.S. apple growers March 1 when a new law came into force requiring a selection of imported fresh produce, including apples, melons, plums and tomatoes, to carry proof they are not genetically modified.
Under the law, enacted by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, every consignment of the listed produce must carry a non-genetically modified certificate issued by an authorized regional or national government authority.
This hurt U.S. growers because, until this week, USDA did not issue such certificates, meaning growers had no way to prove their apples were non-GMO even though only one nearby grower, British Columbia-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., produces a GMO apple.
"India's a very important market for Washington apple growers," said Mark Powers, president of Northwest Horticulture Council.
In 2017, India was Washington apple growers' second-largest export market. India dropped to 12th place during a recent trade dispute, but it nevertheless remains a major market.
What shifted the tides this week, Powers said, is the Washington State Department of Agriculture worked out the technical details necessary to issue a non-GMO certificate to apple growers. The process will involve inspections and other protocols.
"We and WSDA have finally gotten many of the details worked through," said Powers. "The process is underway, and we've been in parallel discussions with USDA."
Starting next week, Powers said he expects shippers will be able to start sending apples to India again, although he said it might take a little while to ramp up.
India's new law means U.S. growers will have more paperwork to do to get certified as non-GMO, but Powers said that's preferable to being shut out of the market.
U.S. apple growers knew the law was coming; the Indian government announced its intention to create such a law last August. The U.S. industry then partnered with apple industries from other countries, putting pressure on India not to enact the law. But when other countries caved in, the international coalition fell apart and India got the upper hand.
The law was supposed to go into effect in December but was postponed until March 1.
Washington apple growers say they're pleased that, with certifications, they'll be able to access the market again.
Challenges remain, however. India still has a 70% tariff on U.S. apples — a 50% Most Favored Nation tariff plus a 20% retaliatory tariff.
"On the positive side, we can ship. On the negative side, we're still faced with duties," said Fryhover of the commission.
Fryhover and Powers both said they're hopeful the new U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, will negotiate a better trade arrangement in the coming months.