Reactions Vary on China Citrus Imports

Ernie NeffFresh

Satsumas are among the five fresh citrus types now allowed to be imported to the United States from China.

Representatives of the California and Florida fresh citrus industries had distinctly different reactions to the announcement that some fresh citrus from China can now be imported into the United States.

Casey Creamer

California Citrus Mutual President Casey Creamer said, “We don’t anticipate any major disruptions in our fresh markets. It is not anticipated that much volume will come to the U.S.”

But Florida industry representatives Dan Richey and Peter Chaires expressed strong disappointment with the announcement. Their primary concern is the risk of pest and disease spread to the U.S. citrus industry.

The import authorization for five types of citrus from China came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS will allow pummelo, Nanfeng honey mandarin, ponkan, sweet orange and Satsuma mandarin fruit to be imported to the United States. APHIS stated that those varieties “can be safely imported into the United States under a systems approach to protect against the introduction of plant pests.” The import authorization came as part of a Phase One trade agreement between the United States and China.

Creamer said, “We will monitor closely and work with APHIS to address any pest detection issues.” He added that as part of the agreement, “China has agreed to purchase more agricultural products, which includes citrus. We have also received a reduction in the retaliatory tariffs as part of the Phase One deal.”

Riverfront Packing Company’s Richey said, “California does have a rather robust citrus trade with China. We do not here in Florida.”

Richey, who has long been actively involved in trade issues, expressed strong opposition to the import authorization. “This agreement by our country to agree to import fruit from China under a systems approach is pure lunacy,” Richey said. “If we think for one minute that China will hold their grower/packers to the standards required of a systems approach, we are fools.” He added that the import authorization “is politically motivated and puts agriculture in Florida and the U.S. at undue risk. It is a very unfortunate and dangerous decision.”

Dan Richey

“The net result of this is yet to be seen relative to the market impact,” said Richey. “I am much more concerned with the invasive pest and disease risk, not only with the fruit but with pallets the fruit is shipped on. We are required to use heat-treated pallets to ensure no wood-boring insects are hitchhiking in the pallets. Again, the Chinese cannot be trusted to adhere to this rule and who knows what may arrive in these pallets and on our shores?”

Peter Chaires

“Florida Citrus Packers is certainly disappointed to see the approval of citrus imports from China,” said Chaires, executive vice president of the organization representing fresh citrus packers. “Florida can ill afford another pest or disease outbreak. Our climate can easily host pests from that area of the world. If introduced, these foreign pests can rapidly establish and expand. There is insufficient evidence that appropriate systems are in place in China to mitigate the risk and prevent an unintended introduction. There are no known pest control products or means to control some of the pests of concern. One would think that the loss of half of our producing citrus acreage and tens of thousands of jobs to the direct effect of foreign pest and disease introductions and related eradication programs would illuminate the risk to sufficient levels to renew political and regulatory efforts to protect domestic specialty crop production. Domestic specialty crop producers more closely resemble a trade-table bargaining chip than a treasured industry that ensures a safe, wholesome, reliable food supply.” 

“China is a northern hemisphere citrus production region,” Chaires added. “Their citrus season overlaps Florida. They are a low-cost producer with few of the regulatory and institutional costs incurred by our domestic producers. This is not a level playing field. To say that this is a concern is an understatement. This change will result in more low-cost imported fruit squeezing domestic producers out of the market.”

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large