YAKIMA, Wash. — U.S. pear exports have benefited from a weak U.S. dollar, and they stand to get another boost this year in the form of lower Mexican tariffs.
After a new cross-border trucking agreement, tariffs on U.S. pears in July dropped from 20% to 10%, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima.
The agreement immediately removed half of the retaliatory duties Mexico has applied to $2.4 billion in U.S. exports, including pears, apples, cherries and other fresh produce items.
Remaining tariffs will be lifted within five business days from the date on which the first Mexican carrier receives authorization under the new program, which could be in late summer, Powers said.
The lower tariffs will boost pear sales to Mexico, said Dave Whiteside, salesman for Borton & Sons Inc., Yakima.
Mexico was the top export market for pears from 2006 through 2009, but retaliatory tariffs dropped U.S. pear exports from $72 million in 2008 to $43 million in 2010.
However, exports in the January through May period of 2011 — even before the tariffs were halved — were up 12% compared with 2010.
Canada also is a strong market for Northwest pears.
Export statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that Canada was the top export market for pears in 2010, importing $49.7 million — or nearly one-third of all U.S. pear exports.
Shipments of pears to Canada from January through May were up 7% in 2011 compared with year-ago levels.
Pear exports comprise a significant portion of total sales for Northwest shippers.
“Most of the real growth is in exports,” said Randy Steensma, president and export marketing director for Nuchief Sales Inc., Wenatchee.
Looking Far East
While Mexico and Canada are huge markets for U.S. pears, growth is also occurring on the other side of the globe.
Asian markets, the Indian market and Russian Far East are growing markets for anjous, Steensma said.
And the cheaper dollar will help the introduction of pears into markets at an affordable level, he said.
Beside strong shipments to Mexico and Canada, Domex Superfresh Growers also is seeing growing acceptance of Northwest pears in Asia, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for the Yakima-based firm, which exports about a third of its volume.
“Export business makes sense with the low-valued U.S. dollar and the likelihood of a small size profile this year,” said Steve Clement, general manager with Sage Fruit LLC, Yakima, Wash.
“I would anticipate export growth this season,” he said.
Russia is the third-largest export market for U.S. pears, and shipments there have climbed from $3.4 million in 2006 to $12.2 million in 2010.
However, exports of U.S. pears to Russia from January through June 2011 were off 16% compared with the same period in 2010.
Barriers to growth
Powers said the top priority for pear exporters has been winning access to the Chinese market.
“That’s been the one that has been the priority for the pear industry,” he said.
He noted that China has access for a couple types of pears in the U.S. market, while the U.S. has not been able to ship any of its pears to China despite having access for apples.
“We have been after market access there since the mid-1990s,” Powers said.
While pears are at the top of the priority list, there is still work to do, he said.
Australia and Japan also are markets where pears are not given access, but those markets also have denied access to apples, Powers said.
Before pears can hope to sell to those markets, apple access may have to come first.
Powers said one of the hurdles that the pear industry faces in gaining access to China is that other countries with fireblight have agreed to unreasonable restrictions on trade, thus setting a precedent that may be hard to break.
Kevin Moffitt, president of the Northwest Pear Bureau, Milwaukie, Ore., said China would be an attractive market if marketers could win access.
“Even though studies have shown that trees can get fireblight from pears, they are holding us out,” he said.
Beside the markets in Mexico and Canada, Moffitt said that India and Indonesia have shown signs of growth.
While central Europe is not a big market, Moffitt said there are interesting signs of potential there.
Beyond phytosanitary barriers to exports, Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs for the Northwest Horticulture Council, said grower-shippers also are concerned about redundant audits for food safety practices.
One tree fruit in Washington operation had 37 food safety audits last year.