USDA delays Argentine lemon import rule decision
U.S. authorities have given the public more time to respond to a proposal that would allow imports of fresh lemons from northwest Argentina.
The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had previously set a comment deadline for July 11, but the date has been extended for 30 days to August 10.
At the time of writing, 150 comments on the issue had been submitted to APHIS.
A large portion of the comments were from California and Arizona citrus farmers, raising their concerns about the threat of citrus greening and claims the last site visit to Argentina was in 2007.
However, Jose Carbonell who heads up Argentine citrus grower association Federcitrus, submitted his comments highlighting a draft pest risk assessment (PRA) was released by APHIS for public comment in March 2014, and the "last site visit by APHIS took place just last year in June 2015".
"In addition, Argentina has a country-wide traceability system in place, that is require [sic] for all lemons going to the export market," Carbonell said.
"This system not only traces the lemon from its orchard of origin to its final destination, but it also provides a summary of the production history and inspections."
Carbonell's message was also relayed by other Argentine industry representatives including Roberto Sanchez Loria of the Tucuman Citrus Association, Daniel Lucci of the Lucci Group and Pablo Lucci of Citrusvil.
California Citrus Mutual was very critical of the move from the outset, while grower Sun Pacific also called for an extension of the comments period.
"Sun Pacific, one of the largest growers of Citrus Fruits in California, kindly requests a 120 day extension for the comment period in order to more fully evaluate the proposal," said Sun Pacific chief financial officer Adam Smith in his comment.
Traders of domestic citrus also questioned the assumptions of APHIS' economic analysis lemon market growth, sales, pricing, supply and the impact Argentine lemons will have on U.S. lemon growers and related industries.
"The economic analysis assumes that importing Argentine lemons will reduce consumer prices and drive up lemon demand like most fruits do. However, this assumption is naive and inaccurate," said trader Sarah Matejowsky.
"The lemon demand is reliant on other uses such as lemonade and with seafood. This along with the complexities of the global lemon market demand and supply should be applied to the economic analysis."
U.S.-based importers also weighed in, including Mark Greenberg of Capespan North America, John Ercolani of J&K Fresh, DNE World Fruit Sales president Gregory E. Nelson and AGRO Merchants Group director Daniel A. Sorbello.
"Lemon demand has of late been increasing at a rate that has outstripped domestic suppliers' ability to adequately supply retailers' needs, especially in summer," said Greenberg.
"Lemons from Argentina would each year come into the market at a time when domestic lemon production is low. Complementing domestic production in these months with lemons from Argentina would provide retailers and consumers with a less cyclical lemon supply.
"Our experience with imported citrus from numerous sources renders us confident that the phyto-sanitary protocol proposed by APHIS for the authorization of Argentinean lemons for entry into the continental United States will provide domestic producers with satisfactory protection."