California Citrus Mutual backs stay on Argentine lemon import rule

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California Citrus Mutual backs stay on Argentine lemon import rule

California Citrus Mutual (CCM) has applauded the Trump Administration for its immediate action on Argentine lemon imports, which came in the form of a 60-day stay on a previously approved import rule

CCM president Joel Nelsen

In a release today, CCM said the new government and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had acted with careful consideration for the U.S. citrus industry and the negative impacts Argentine lemon imports could bring.

"While CCM does not oppose trade or the inevitable competition created for our industry by the importation of offshore product, we cannot support any trade deal that will place the California citrus industry at risk," said CCM president Joel Nelsen. 

"To this end, we will continue to work with the USDA to create a work plan that better protects the domestic citrus industry from the multitude of pests and diseases known to be present in northwest Argentina."

CCM highlighted the final rule, issued on Dec. 23 last year, created "significant vulnerability" for the domestic citrus crop to invasive pests and diseases like Huanglongbing (HLB), which has devastated citrus industries around the world including Florida and has been present in Argentina since 2012.

The U.S. citrus industry and the USDA have invested well over a billion dollars in the past decade to protect the U.S. citrus crop against HLB and the insect vector Asian citrus psyllid, the group said.

It said as growers, government, and homeowners work to prevent further spread of HLB in or outside of the Los Angeles Basin, Argentine lemons could bring similar destructive pests and diseases into California including Citrus Black Spot and Leprosis, a virus similar to HLB that has no cure and is transmitted by mites.

"The President campaigned on a platform of protecting American industries from trade packages that create unnecessary vulnerabilities for domestic production, business, and jobs," Nelsen said.

"The President's swift action in regard to the Argentine lemon rule is a clear signal that he intends to keep his campaign promise.

"While CCM may disagree with the President's position on other trade negotiations from the perspective that deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have benefitted citrus producers, we support the Administration's efforts to protect domestic industries."

Speaking with the Argentine press, Juan Luis Fernández, Minister for Economic Development in Tucuman – the main province where Argentina’s lemons are grown – said the decision was a “normal transitionary measure”.

"What has happened is a suspension of any type of agreement in all aspects of the United States administration by effect of a rule signed by the new president, Donald Trump, for which those agreements that haven't entered into force remain suspended for  a period of 60 days and should be revised by the new administration," Fernández was quoted as saying in the newspaper La Gaceta.

The minister reportedly said this did not mean the U.S. would go back on its initial agreement to allow Argentine lemons into the country, but the implementation of the new rule would be postponed from Jan. 23 to March 25.

"We just have to wait and keep working so that it is finalized," he was quoted as saying. 

"It's important to note the technical aspects which were the subject of discussion these last few years were clarified and resolved between the phytosanitary organizations of the United States and the Republic of Argentina, which are difficult to reverse."

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