California citrus still waits on China agreement

12/03/2013 03:21:00 PM
Mike Hornick

California Citrus MutualThe normal peak season for exports of California citrus to China has arrived, but shippers are still waiting for an agreement to allow the fruit back into the country.

China banned California product — but not that of Florida or Texas — in April after finds of phytophthora syringae, or brown rot, in some citrus shipments. The ban cost California growers a market for valencias, their summer orange, among other items.

Jim Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Council, and Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, attended meetings of U.S. and Chinese officials Nov. 5-7 in Xiamen, China, that seemed to produce an agreement on mitigation measures. But China hasn’t finalized it.

“We had hoped to have it early last week but it hasn’t materialized and we don’t know when it will,” Nelsen said Dec. 2. “It’s frustrating.”

California citrus has shipped to China year round, but the big push is in December and January.

“We would normally be taking orders now, planning our harvests and loading the fruit so it would arrive in China well before the end of December,” Nelsen said. “A week does matter.”

At the November meetings, representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine reached a tentative agreement on mitigation steps that included skirting trees to avoid low-hanging fruit; applying a prophylactic copper spray at a key time of year; and using a different material in postharvest wash.

From there, senior leadership in both countries was to review it.

“It was moving up the ladders of policy,” Nelsen said. “The secretary of agriculture and the (chief agricultural negotiator) of the U.S. Trade Representative both concurred it was a good agreement, as did industry. We were waiting for a similar statement from the Chinese government. It hasn’t come and we don’t know when it will.”

“Our goal is to have the problem resolved on a scientific basis with appropriate mitigation,” he said. “They should reopen the market based upon that unless they want to create additional barriers. We’re just waiting. There’s not much more we can do now.”

The California industry would have preferred to know more about the brown rot findings.

“It was a legitimate detection,” Nelsen said. “They forwarded the lab results to our technical people at USDA and the University of California. We know there were seven detections, but we don’t know if that was one piece of fruit in one carton, an entire carton, a whole load or what. We don’t know how expansive the problem was, but they closed the door on our fruit.”

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