U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia have responded to citrus industry concerns about China being allowed to ship fresh citrus to the United States. Representatives of the Florida and Georgia citrus industries objected when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in April announced it would allow the imports. Industry concerns focused on the risk of imported pests and diseases being spread to the U.S. citrus industry.
Loeffler, in a letter to Georgia Citrus Association President Lindy Savelle, reported she had learned “that this decision was tied directly to the Phase 1 trade deal reached between President Trump and China … The trade deal includes large purchases of Georgia products like cotton as well as opening the Chinese market to products … including citrus.”
“After hearing this news, I became concerned that reversing the citrus decision could potentially erase years of hard work and significant gains for Georgia agriculture as well as worsen the trade war with China,” Loeffler wrote.
“Still, I remain concerned about allowing Chinese citrus into the U.S. and believe we must be vigilant about protecting Georgia producers from possible economic or ecological harm,” Loeffler added. “I am particularly troubled by the implications of exposing Georgia citrus trees to foreign plant diseases.”
“I was happy to learn that USDA has … determined that the threat (of exposing Georgia citrus to foreign diseases) is negligible and manageable,” Loeffler stated. She promised to remain in contact with Perdue’s office “to ensure that Georgia producers are shielded from economic or ecological harm from Chinese citrus imports.”
In a May 12 letter to Savelle, Perdue wrote that “USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) determined commercial shipments of these fruits can be safely imported into the United States when produced under a systems approach and accompanied by USDA import permits … Market access for any commodity is only granted when effective mitigations are available and can be implemented to minimize the risk of pest introduction … If the mitigations within the systems approach are not maintained, these citrus products from China will not be allowed to be imported into the United States.”
See Perdue’s full letter to Savelle here.
Ray Royce, executive director of Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, said his group had received “a very similar letter” from Perdue. “We consider it a closed matter after registering our concerns,” Royce said. He added that while his organization is concerned about the potential for disease spread because of the Chinese imports, “we do certainly appreciate all of the positive things that USDA is doing for the Florida citrus industry.”
“I don’t think there’s going to be any changes” to the USDA decision to allow the Chinese imports, Savelle said. But she added that she’s grateful that Perdue and Loeffler took time to respond to the Georgia citrus industry concerns in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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