With a couple of notable exceptions, the current U.S. Administration has been at a relative standstill when it comes to publishing new final rules for import access protocols in fresh produce.
Much attention has been given to the ambitions of sectors like the Colombian avocado industry and Argentina's lemon growers, but there is another fast-growing fruit export sector looking to improve its relationship with the United States.
At Fresh Fruit Portal we caught up with Citrus Australia citrus market access manager David Daniels to discuss what is effectively the last main frontier in market access deals for his sector.
"When access for Australian citrus was initially granted some decades ago, it was granted on the basis of access for the pest-free areas in the southern states," Daniels said.
Since then though there has been huge growth in the Australian mandarin industry, and more than half of the country's production area for that category comes from the northeastern state of Queensland which wasn't included in the original protocol.
"The entire industry across the country is really in a buoyant phase and the Queensland mandarin sector is no different at all," Daniels emphasized.
"They’ve had quite a remarkable couple of years as well – good prices particularly through Asia, particularly through Queensland Murcotts that have done quite well," he said.
"I will say that’s on the back of a couple of disastrous years where they had terrible flood events in Queensland, and in some places three years in a row - they seem to have bounced back from those," he said, adding this season has been very good.
To get a foot in the door for Queensland mandarins, the Australian government and industry have assisted the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with whatever information or support they need in order to work toward an arrangement.
"To expand the areas that were granted access would require another risk assessment by the USDA, which they have conducted...that was a couple of years ago they finalized the risk assessment.
"Now to finalize the rulemaking and get that into U.S. legislation seems to be suffering quite substantial delays.
"The risk assessment hasn’t identified any other new risks apart from a couple of additional species of fruit flies that are present in Queensland that aren’t present in the southern states of Australia, so we needed to provide the USDA with some technical information to show them that our cold treatment for fruit fly will adequately deal with those additional species of fruit fly."
With these hard yards done, the sector is now looking forward to the day that access might come.
"There is a real market opportunity there. There's no doubt," Daniels said.
"We’re seeing substantial volumes of mandarins coming on and the U.S. would represent a really good market, particularly for Honey Murcotts.
"Most of our market access challenges have been overcome, so our market access for citrus is really about a bunch of minor protocol improvements rather than new market access per se."
Last year Australia exported US$13.2 million worth of citrus to the U.S., including US$8 million of oranges and US$5 million of easy peelers.
Japanese protocol improvement
He mentions Japan as an example of a market where minor protocol improvements could also be made.
"For access to Japan we’ve actually got limitations on the varieties we can send under cold treatment, so we’d like to expand that list of varieties, particularly to include Afourer mandarins because we do have substantial plantings of Afourers entering full production now," he said.
"We’re allowed to send Honey Murcotts, Imperials, Ellendales and Minneolas. When we presented the data to Japan we tried to present the data to show that cold treatment can work across an entire spectrum of shapes and sizes, but the access we were given was variety-specific.
"We've actually got access for Imperial mandarins which are not an export variety, nor are the other ones really – Ellendales have all been pushed out, and there isn’t a lot of demand for the Minneola tangelos, so really in effect our access is limited to Honey Murcotts under cold treatment."
U.S. grapefruit import amendments
Late last week the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced it had authorized a cold treatment option for Australian grapefruit produced in areas free of Mediterranean fruit fly (Med-fly) but Daniels has downplayed the issue.
Out of the US$245 million worth of citrus exports from the country last year only US$1.4 million was in fresh grapefruit, according to UN Comtrade statistics.
Daniels added that grapefruit represented "less than half a percent" of Australia's national citrus crop.
"It was something that was put to the U.S. about eight years ago when we first conducted the research to effect the policy change," he said.
"It effectively isn’t a policy change per se; they haven’t had to change the Federal Register, it’s really just a change in treatment procedures for grapefruit."
He said the industry previously had U.S. grapefruit market access via pest free area (PFA) certifications, but that PFA access was lost for the states of New South Wales and Victoria, meaning South Australia has really been the only state capable of exporting to the country.
"They’ve just provided a viable treatment in the USDA treatment manual as a remedial treatment in the case that we don’t have a PFA anymore," he said.
He said the new situation meant that unlike their South Australian counterparts, citrus exporters in New South Wales or Victoria wouldn't be able to mix grapefruit with other fruit in their consignments.
"Under cold treatment APHIS will only allow you to treat one type of commodity in one type of packaging in a single container, because they believe the temperature across different types of commodities or different kinds of packaging may be different.
"It will have virtually no implications given that we’re not allowed to export mixed consignments – it would be very unlikely that anyone would put a full container load of grapefruit on the water to the USA."
While Australia's grapefruit industry is small, exports have grown a lot over the past four years, climbing from just US$320,448 in 2013 to US$1.36 million last year with Japan as the leading market by far, followed by Canada and the UAE.
"Last year was the first season of any substantial exports to Japan for grapefruit," he added.
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