Concern About Possibility of Chinese Citrus Imports

Len WilcoxCalifornia Corner

In a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), California Citrus Mutual (CCM) expressed concern over China’s 2017 request to export citrus to the United States. The request is undergoing evaluation by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

In 2014, APHIS proposed to allow China to export citrus fruits to the United States if all fruit was placed in paper bags on the trees before harvest. China objected to this protocol, so the 2014 proposal was not finalized.

The request was renewed in 2017, and APHIS began a review of the previous proposal. During this review, new potential pest issues were identified. However, the agency proposed less stringent control measures.

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CCM says that “in carrying out this review, APHIS identified a ‘significantly longer pest list than the 2014 PRA (Pest Risk Assessment), and identified two additional quarantine pests … that could follow the pathway on’ citrus fruits. However, despite the significantly longer and more serious list of pests, APHIS is now proposing a Systems Approach that is less stringent than the Systems Approach proposed in 2014.”

CCM comments submitted in response to Chinese petition to import citrus into the United States continue as follows: “As an overarching comment, we are confused by the events that have taken place with respect to the request from China.”

The association questions why pest-free areas of production were eliminated as a requirement and instead pest-free places of production became the standard. “Assuming a risk elimination protocol is put in place, this approach still creates vulnerability for the California citrus industry,” states CCM Strategic Advisor Joel Nelsen.

CCM noted that APHIS was neither advancing any oversight nor training on a proposed protocol that was complicated and sensitive, which increases the industry’s vulnerability.

CCM also submitted two lengthy scientific documents which seemingly counter APHIS’ justification for elements of the protocol. As an example, APHIS notes existing standards for citrus black spot (CBS) would provide the necessary protections, but CCM argues that the efficiency of existing protocols for the CBS pathogen have not been evaluated.

CCM believes there were too many assumptions and too few relevant scientific facts to justify actions in the proposed rule. An original proposal in 2014 placed strong barriers against Chinese citrus access to which the Chinese government protested. Now USDA is relaxing those requirements, albeit pears and apples entering the United States are still required to satisfy the same stringent requirements.

“This makes no sense and piles on the concern CCM articulated regarding increased vulnerability,” the association concludes.

Source: California Citrus Mutual

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Len Wilcox

Correspondent at Large for Citrus Industry Magazine and AgNet West