Andy Nelson, Markets Editor
Andy Nelson, Markets Editor

Win some, lose some?

It’s hard to know exactly how to characterize the current state of North America/China relations when it comes to fresh produce. So much is up in the air.

Flash back to nine months ago, when Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc. announced that its first load of Mexican avocados had arrived in China.

Mission inked a deal with Shanghai, China-based distributor Lantao to distribute its fruit in several Chinese cities.

Thomas Padilla, Mission’s export salesman, told me recently that while the China deal has some kinks still to be worked out, Mission is by no means sorry it took the plunge.

“It will be a big learning experience for the next three or four years, but we think China will be a very good market for avocados,” Padilla said.

“I think there will be more volume when Mexico starts its new season.”

Some of that learning experience will be at the consumer end, Padilla said, as marketers educate Chinese consumers on when and how to eat avocados. But he points out that the same thing had to be done with U.S. consumers, and I’d say that experiment has turned out pretty well.

There’s also a learning curve for importers and handlers further down the supply chain in China.

“The biggest problem is cold chain infrastructure,” Padilla said. “That’s been harder than we thought. But we’re still optimistic.”

The past few months have produced other developments on the North America/China front, with Washington apples and California citrus among the more recent headline-grabbers.

Under a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chinese apples would be allowed access into the U.S. if certain phytosanitary conditions are met.

But even with its status as the world’s biggest apple producer, China’s exports to the U.S. would likely be modest.

And opening the doors to China could work the other way. In 1999, China green-lighted imports of U.S. red delicious and golden delicious apples, but that door was shut in 2012 because of concerns about post-harvest decay and disease.

Any deal allowing Chinese apples should take that into consideration, and hopefully get U.S. shippers back in the game.

The resumption of California citrus exports to China, meanwhile, was still on hold after a June meeting between Chinese and American officials in California, but on Aug. 4, California officials received official word that the door had been reopened.

China banned California citrus in April 2013 after brown rot was found in shipments of oranges.

One veteran of the Chinese import/export game, Jim Provost, president of Kelton, Pa.-based I Love Produce, is optimistic that Washington apples will regain access to China.

He’s bullish on China in general, with blueberries perhaps joining apples, citrus, avocados, cherries, grapes and other commodities shipping from west to east in coming years.

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