Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

December 14, 2013

China seeking to export apples to U.S.

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — China has its sights set on exporting its fruit to the United States. And that’s OK with growers in Washington, who harvest the bulk of America’s apple crop.

Having the world’s No. 1 apple producer as a competitor may seem counterintuitive, but growers say opening U.S. borders to Chinese apples means American farmers should in turn be able to get a foothold in the country’s lucrative and growing market.

“We need to export apples,” said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, a Yakima-based group that handles trade disputes for apple growers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

The Chinese consume most of their nation’s apple harvest and the expanding market there is particularly attractive to growers in the Northwest who depend on foreign sales because the U.S. already produces more apples than Americans can eat.

Washington grew a record crop of 129 million bushels last year, about 30 percent of which was exported to countries such as Canada, Mexico and Taiwan. The state’s $2.2 billion apple industry accounted for about 65 percent of America’s apple harvest.

Northwest farmers once exported about 11,000 tons of Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apples to China annually. That deal ended a year ago, when China said it was worried that apple diseases from Washington that could damage its own orchards.

But Washington growers suspect the real reason the market closed was to put pressure on the U.S. to allow Chinese apples into this country. And they’re hoping trade officials agree to a reciprocity deal soon.

For its part, China, which grows half of the world’s apple crop, has been eyeing to the U.S. market for 15 years. Observers think ongoing trade talks may mean U.S. apples could return to the Chinese market by early next year. Chinese apples, meanwhile, could enter the U.S. market by next fall.

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