U.S. fruit export surge forecast

06/06/2003 12:00:00 AM
Tom Karst

(June 6) Greater shipments of Mexican fresh vegetables will help raise total 2003 U.S. agricultural imports to record levels, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported May 27.

However, the depreciation of the dollar should help U.S. exports during the rest of 2003 and into 2004, according to a the report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

The dollar has fallen broadly in value against world currencies in recent months. The dollar dropped from even with the euro on Dec. 11 to 0.85 euro on June 3. It also has lost value against the Canadian dollar and, to a lesser extent, the Japanese yen.

The declining value of the dollar could be valuable to Northwest U.S. apple and pear shippers, who export about 30% of their crop, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.

A lower dollar makes U.S. fruit less expensive to foreign buyers.

Another benefit of the weaker dollar, he noted, is that it makes U.S. fruit imports more expensive.

“One of the big questions is how long the trend will continue,” he said.

While some inventories of apples will continue to be exported through the summer, the 2002 storage pear crop is largely finished.

Powers said it would take a sustained dip in the value of the dollar to make a significant impact on exports.

TRADE IMPACT

Overall U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal 2003, which will end Sept. 30, were projected at $56 billion in late May, down from a forecast of $57 billion in February. The estimate for U.S. agricultural imports was raised from $43 billion in February to $45.5 billion in May.

The shrinking of exports and the surge in imports leaves the projected fiscal 2003 U.S. agricultural trade surplus at $10.5 billion, the lowest since 1987.

The forecast for fiscal 2003 imports of vegetables and preparations was raised from $5.6 billion in February to $6.3 billion in May.

Part of that surge was related to heavy Mexican vegetable shipments to the U.S.

USDA trade statistics show that imports of Mexican fresh tomatoes from January through March totaled $387 million, up 72% compared with the $225 million imported during the same quarter in 2002.

Mexican pepper shipments to the U.S., at $170 million, were up 37%.

“We had a receptive market that was relatively well conditioned due to the late January freeze in Florida,” said Daniel Torres, chief operations officer for Meyer Tomatoes LLC, Nogales, Ariz.

Despite challenges of demand-blunting winter snowstorms, Torres said aggressive quality control, particularly for vine-ripe fruit, helped make quality more consistent this season.


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