U.S. approves access for Aussie litchis
The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has approved market access for Australian litchis, just four days after giving the nod to the country's mango exports.
The fruit will need to be irradiated and will be allowed for shipment to all mainland states except Florida, due to the presence of litchi rust mite in Australia.
Litchi exporters will also need to comply with a systems approach and inspections will need to be undertaken at the port of entry, particularly to check for the presence of the litchi hairy mite which cannot be eliminated by irradiation.
During a public feedback period in early 2012, one commenter suggested the fruit should not be allowed into California given the state has a similar climate to Florida that could allow for the establishment and survival of this radiation-tolerant pest.
"Another commenter stated that commercial litchi production is an emerging field in California and those small- and medium-scale agricultural producers and family farms in particular would be helped by the exclusion of Australian litchi fruit from California," APHIS said in the final rule on the Federal Register.
However, APHIS said California's dry Mediterranean climate was not conducive for the mite's survival, and other weather issues made litchi production difficult in the state.
"Additionally, the occurrence of seasonal cold snaps and high winds in California causes flower loss and, consequently, poor fruit set. The litchi tree needs a truly tropical climate to produce much fruit.
"Further, production levels of litchi in California are low. We therefore believe that the improbability of mite survival and the small number of hosts available in California are sufficient to mitigate the risk posed by litchi hairy mite.
"Finally, regarding the second commenter's point, APHIS does not have the authority to prohibit commodities for importation solely based on potential economic impact. The determining factor must be scientifically established pest risk."
With Australia proposing to export 400 metric tons (MT) of the fruit annually, making up 2.7% of the U.S. litchi import figure from 2004, APHIS did not expect that any significant price changes would result from the new access arrangements.
"Additionally, we stated that, given that the agricultural seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are generally the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere, the proposed imports from Australia likely would not directly compete with U.S. litchi fruit production."
The service said global litchi production stood at around 2.2 million MT with China accounting for more than half and India contributing a third.
"The United States produces approximately 500 MT per year, which represents less than 0.03 percent of world production. U.S. litchi production is concentrated in the States of Florida, Hawaii, and California.
"Florida has the largest area under production (1,200 acres), followed by Hawaii (300 acres) and California (60 acres). Currently, Australia produces 3,500 MT of litchis."