U.S. entry for Argentine lemons 'highly unlikely' in 2012

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U.S. entry for Argentine lemons 'highly unlikely' in 2012

Last week, Tucuman Citrus Growers' Association (ATC) president Roberto Sanchez Loria told local press that Argentine lemons should have access to the U.S. market by the year's end. Since then citrus greening disease has been spotted on a residential property in California - a region that has shown stark resistance in the past to Argentine entry due to the risks of citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC) and black spot. At www.freshfruitportal.com we speak with California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelson, who is dismissive of Loria's claims given the bureaucracy involved.

Both Californian and U.S. authorities have confirmed the presence of citrus greening disease, otherwise known as Huanglongbing (HLB), on a residential property in the Hacienda Heights part of Los Angeles county last week.

In response, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is arranging to remove and dispose of the infected tree and conduct treatment of citrus trees within 800 meters of the find site, with treatment oversight from the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA).

"CDFA is moving swiftly to protect the state’s citrus growers as well as our residential trees and the many prized citrus plantings in our parks and other public lands," says CDFA secretary Karen Ross.

"We have been planning and preparing for this scenario with our growers and our colleagues at the federal and local levels since before the Asian citrus psyllid was first detected here in 2008.

"Citrus is not just a part of California’s agricultural economy; it’s a cherished part of our landscape and our shared history."

It is amid this backdrop that the local industry may face a further threat in the coming years with Argentina ramping up negotiations, according to Nelson, but he thinks the earliest the country's lemons will enter the U.S. could be in 2013.

"It is highly unlikely that they will enter the U.S. market by the end of the year, and that’s just from the standpoint that the bureaucratic process takes too long," he says.

"The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is obliged to post a risk assessment and depending on the diseases and pests concerned, there will be a lengthy period for fruit industry stakeholders to give feedback - that is a minimum six month timeframe, and even if the all feedback is positive it is more likely that the USDA evaluation after that will take time.

He says it is also unlikely that USDA application processes will go off without a hitch for Argentine lemon exporters, given the fact Argentina has the presence of CVC and black spot.

"For example, they have black spot in Florida and it’s spreading. There is no known cure and for us in California we deal in fresh citrus and want to avoid the possibility that black spot enters here.

"For our industry in California we just happen to be one of the last pristine citrus areas in the world that doesn’t have this disease. Our colleagues in other parts of the world do, but we don’t want it.

"We depend on fresh citrus and it’s the same in Texas, and for that we have less margin for error and have more vulnerability to disease than if we focused on juice."

He says while Argentine lemon entry would pose economic challenges, the industry's scepticism about disease is not protectionist from a trade standpoint.

"In the countries that supply citrus to the U.S. where they can export from are listed as disease free areas, but in Argentina the scope of disease has never been fully delineated - this is not an industry that opposes exports from other countries to the U.S., but it does oppose imports from countries with disease issues.

"We don’t fight products from offshore, although there are economic issues, but we’ve never argued against Chilean fruit, citrus from Peru, South African or Australian fruit.

"We had problems with fruit from Korea, we’ve had problems with fruit from some parts of Mexico, and we’ve definitely had problems with fruit from Argentina."

He says in a best case scenario if Argentina submits its request to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) this month, the earliest deadline would be November this year, while the USDA would still have to make an evaluation decision after that.

"I don’t know how they’ve come up with the claim they’ll come in this year. I guess they are not as encumbered with the bureaucratic process as we are in the U.S.," says Nelson.


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