Seeking to preserve what has become an important market for U.S. tree fruit exporters, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have asked India for a year delay in implementing fumigation and cold treatment requirements for apple and pear imports.

The USDA sent a formal request to India on Feb. 6 to delay implementation of a new rule by one year so the U.S. has a chance to comment and raise concerns about it, Christian Dellis, spokesman for USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service said Feb. 7.

“A lot of countries are going to be raising concerns,” Dellis said.

No response had been received from India as of Feb. 7 to the request, he said.

In the proposed regulation, India said it no longer recognizes U.S. growing regions free from the Mediterranian fruit fly. India’s regulation will require methyl bromide fumigation and cold treatment for apple and pear imports beginning at the end of March.

“It appears to be some kind of trade barrier going up,” said Mark Seetin, Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple’s director of regulatory and industry affairs.

India has become and important market for U.S. apples in recent years. U.S. apple exports to India totaled 70,000 metric tons from January through November 2011, which was up sharply from the complete year total of 30,000 metric tons in 2006. India was the third-largest export market for U.S. apples in 2011, after Mexico with 174,000 metric tons and Canada with 113,000 metric tons.

India’s imports of U.S. pears totaled 2,451 metric tons in January through November 2011, up from less than 1,000 metric tons in 2006.

“It is very concerning and we are not quite sure why the regulations were published the way they were published,” said Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs for the Northwest Horticulture Council, Yakima. Willett said the Pacific Northwest has never had a detection of Medfly. “That’s why we are troubled this approach India has taken,” he said.

While the Indian regulations are set to become effective at the end of March, the transit time needed to fruit ship to India would mean U.S. exporters would have to have the uncertainty about treatment requirements resolved by the week of Feb. 20, Willett said.

Willett estimated the Pacific Northwest could send close to 3.5 million cartons of fruit to the India market in the 2011-12 marketing year, with nearly 2 million cartons remaining to be shipped through early February.