China citrus import decision slammed by Florida - FreshFruitPortal.com

Florida slams USDA decision to allow Chinese citrus imports

Leading figures from Florida's agricultural and citrus industries have slammed the USDA's recent decision to allow imports of five Chinese citrus fruits.

Earlier this week, Nicole Fried, Florida's Agriculture Commissioner, sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue expressing her "strong opposition" to the move. 

Meanwhile, representatives from the Florida Citrus Mutual and Florida Farm Bureau also criticized the decision, saying it will harm an already struggling industry.

Market access for Chinese citrus was a requirement under the Phase One trade deal implemented between the two countries in February.

In her letter, Fried said there are "extreme risks" to the domestic citrus industry due to the potential entry of numerous invasive pests and diseases.

"This region of China is one of the highest risk areas on earth for invasive fruit fly pests," she said.

"If introduced in theUnited States, not only could these invasive pests and diseases decimate Florida’s citrus industry, but it could also wreak havoc on many other valuable Florida crops including avocados, blueberries, peaches, peppers, persimmons, and tomatoes"

She said the timing of the decision was also poor, given the market disruptions for Florida citrus growers caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"The dire situation on the ground due to COVID-19 market disruptions is exacerbating the decades-long impact that illegal dumping of Mexican produce has had on domestic producers of seasonal produce," she said.

The Florida citrus industry has also been struggling with the spread of the devastating citrus greening disease (HLB) over the last decade, as well as damage from Hurricane Irma.

"After all that Florida’s industry has overcome and the current challenges facing our farmers, to put our agriculture industry at risk by allowing both the introduction of additional invasive species as well as increased foreign competition is beyond misguided," she said.

"To kick our agriculture community while they are down, and when our domestic food supply depends on them more than ever, is just plain wrong. I strongly urge the USDA to put the wellbeing of Florida’s and America’s farmers first and rescind this misguided proposal."

Separately, in a release from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services about the letter, Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Mike Sparks said: “The Florida citrus industry is already facing a devastating non-native disease called HLB that originated in China and has ravaged our groves over the past decade. So the threat is real."

“We need to take another look at this decision. Add to the fact it will hurt growers by flooding domestic markets with Chinese citrus and it really is a double whammy," he said.

Florida Farm Bureau Federation president John Hoblick said his organization appreciates the USDA’s work to keep domestic producers in business during the current COVID-19 crisis. But he says the importation of Chinese citrus will "only compound the mounting challenges faced by our growers".

Highlands County Citrus Growers Association executive director Ray Royce in an April 17 letter asked Perdue to reverse the decision to allow the importation of fresh citrus from China. 

He said the "whole U.S. citrus industry is frankly baffled by this pronouncement and the USDA’s dismissal of industry concerns".