(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.
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.
Meanwhile, the ERS estimated U.S. imports of fruit, fruit preparations and juice would total $5.3 billion in fiscal 2003. That estimate was up $100 million from the February forecast.
From January through March, the USDA said fresh citrus imports — led by the return of Spanish clementines to the U.S. market — were up 74% to $60 million. In the same period, the value of avocado imports was up 10% and pineapple imports soared 32%, while grape imports were down 12% and melon imports were off 11%
Meanwhile, exports of U.S. horticultural products also were revised upward in the May report. U.S. exports of fruits and preparations were estimated at $3.5 billion, up $100 million from the February forecast.
Export sales of U.S. fresh fruit from January through March totaled $504 million, up slightly more than 3% compared to the same quarter last year. Sales to Canada were up 7% and 3% greater to Japan but off 14% to Mexico.
U.S. apple exports during the months of January through March totaled $110 million, off 8% compared to the same period last year. While sales to Canada rose 14%, sales to Taiwan were off 26% and exports to Mexico were down 23%.
The slower sales to Mexico have been attributed to a 46% antidumping tariff imposed since last August on U.S. red and golden delicious apples. Apple industry leaders and lobbyists are working to remove the tariff, Powers said.
Meanwhile, he said U.S. plant health officials were expected to meet with their Taiwanese counterparts on June 7 as they attempt to reach an agreement for a new protocol for apple shipments to Japan.
Taiwanese officials banned U.S. apple shipments in November after the reported discoveries of codling moths in shipments of California and Washington apples. Shipments were allowed to resume on an interim basis in December, but Powers said a new work plan must be in place before U.S. marketers can export 2003 crop apples to Taiwan.
Taiwan typically buys several million cartons of U.S. apples — mostly high-dollar fujis — each year.
The fiscal 2003 estimate for U.S. exports of vegetables and preparations totaled $3.1 billion, unchanged from February.
Exports of U.S. fresh vegetables in the period of January through March totaled $307 million, down 3% from $317 million the same period last year.