While delaying a decision on Chilean fresh figs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved expanded access for Chilean fresh pomegranates.

Beginning May 17, Chilean fresh pomegranates can enter the U.S. under a “systems” approach to reduce the threat of invasive pests, the USDA said. The USDA said the approval means that pomegranates from Chile will no longer have to be treated with methyl bromide, which was previously a requirement for entry. Chilean fresh pomegranates treated with methyl bromide were approved for import in 2010.

Under the updated regulation, exported pomegranates would be grown in areas that are certified with low prevalence of certain pests and would be subject to pre-harvest and post-packing inspection.

The agency said small quantities of Chilean pomegranates are expected to be shipped to the U.S., expected to be equal only to about 4% of U.S. production. The 2007 Census of Agriculture indicated the U.S. had 599 farms growing pomegranates on 24,517 acres. That compares with less than 800 acres of pomegranates grown in Chile as of 2010, according to figures from Chilean exporters.

The USDA said the counter-seasonality of Chilean pomegranates will help prevent imports from having a negative price affect on U.S. pomegranate growers. The season in California typically runs from September through January.

“Off-season availability of pomegranates from Chile may help broaden demand for this fruit, thereby benefiting domestic producers over time,” the USDA said. Chile’s pomegranate harvest begins in mid-March and continues with good volume through May, industry sources report.