With China apple exporters looking to secure access to the U.S. for the first time — and U.S. apple marketers seeking to regain access to China — both sides are anxious for success.

China, which has been aggressively seeking fresh apple access to the U.S. for more than a decade, had some encouraging news on Dec. 2 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a pest risk assessment for Chinese apples. That document, detailing risks and how to mitigate them, could be a precursor to opening the U.S. market.

How soon the USDA would grant China’s access is impossible to know, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.

“I would be surprised if it was before next fall,” he said.

Diane Kurrle, interim president of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., said U.S. tree fruit scientists are already examining the pest risk assessment.

“Our top concern is that the scientific process continues to be followed and any pest and disease issues are dealt with,” she said.

China is the world’s largest apple producer, accounting for more than 45% of global output in 2011, compared with 6% share for the U.S. However, China exports only about 3% of its crop, compared to the 16% export share for U.S. apples.

U.S. apple exporters are equally anxious to access China, Powers said.

Chinese authorities closed access to U.S. red and golden delicious apples in August 2012, citing postharvest decay and disease issues, and industry leaders have been working to reopen the market since then. U.S. fresh apple exports to China dropped from 9,350 metric tons in 2010 to just 366 metric tons from January through September this year.

Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, USDA officials were working to get Chinese plant health officials to visit Northwest orchards and spark the process to reopen the Chinese market.

“The details remain to be worked out, but the invitations have been sent,” Powers said.

He said talks between U.S. and Chinese officials in early November reached agreement on moving forward with both issues.

Powers said the expectation is that China would reopen its market to U.S. apples during this season, perhaps as early as January. Instead of allowing only red and golden delicious, exporters also hope that Chinese authorities will OK access for all varieties.

“From an industry standpoint, it is critical that Chinese apples are not allowed into this country before U.S. apples are allowed over there,” Kurrle said.