Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- The Washington Apple Commission is supporting importation of Chinese apples into the U.S. if China allows all U.S. apple varieties to be imported into China.

A motion to that effect, adopted unanimously by the commission on Dec. 5, also is conditioned on the USDA and U.S. apple industry being completely satisfied that all pest and disease issues can be mitigated.

The motion goes to Northwest Fruit Exporters, an industry trade organization in Yakima, which decides whether to adopt it and send it to the USDA.

"I have met with Jim Archer (NFE manager) and one of his board members and don't have a clear indication if it will be passed on or not," said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee.

The Washington apple industry longed feared being overrun by voluminous Chinese Fuji and has opposed letting them into the U.S. But while Chinese apples were cheaper, they cost more now, are of inferior quality and never really caught on in Canada where they've been allowed for several years, Fryhover said.

While many Washington growers still oppose Chinese apples, it looks inevitable that will happen and appears to be the only way to gain full varietal U.S. access into China, Fryhover said.

In a December 2010 letter to Archer, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA must be able to demonstrate progress on China's access to the U.S. for the U.S. to gain full access to China, Fryhover said.

The USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is moving toward resolution of pest issues with China, he said.

Washington growers likely have more to gain in China than to lose in the U.S., he said.

"We're looking at a 129.7-million-box crop and we will need every market we can get in the future," Fryhover said. "We want APHIS to understand we have to have access."

On Aug. 9, China stopped issuing import permits for U.S. Red and Golden Delicious apples and still appeared to be cracking down on the smuggling of other U.S. apple varieties from Hong Kong, Fryhover said.

China has alleged post-harvest rot issues but has not been able to prove it, he said. The larger issue he believes is trade.

China sent two quarantine personnel to Washington packing houses this week regarding the post-harvest rot issue, he said.

China has allowed U.S. Reds and Goldens since the mid-1990s. Access for other varieties was not negotiated at that time because Reds and Goldens were the dominant varieties. A large gray market of other Washington varieties grew into China from Hong Kong.

China has become Washington's No. 2 growth apple export market behind India and ahead of Indonesia. China imported 408,000 boxes of Washington apples in the 2011 crop year and Hong Kong took another 2.1 million boxes for a combined total of 2.5 million. That was down from 2.9 million in 2010.

The increase has been fueled by China's growing middle class with a desire for quality fruit and the necessary income to buy Washington apples.

With sales to China on hold and slowing to Hong Kong, the Apple Commission is redirecting $200,000 in promotional efforts in China to other markets in Southeast Asia and Central and South America, Fryhover said.

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