(Oct. 30, 6:11 p.m.) ORLANDO, Fla. — Resolution to a long-standing dispute over the starting date for the California desert grape marketing order appears to be close at hand, according to David Holzworth, general counsel for the Santiago-based Chilean Exporters Association.

The matter went to government negotiations through the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and its Chilean counterparts earlier this year, he said, and there is an “agreement in principle” to move the effective date of the marketing order up 10 days to April 10, Holzworth said Oct. 24.

Chilean industry leaders and the California Desert Grape Administrative Committee are advising their respective government representatives, he said.

Currently, standards imposed by the California desert grape marketing order requires all imported grapes to meet minimum U.S. No. 1 standards by April 20. California desert grape growers have been attempting to move the date to April 1 for more than three years. California growers have been concerned that heavy volume of Chilean grapes — particularly crimson seedless — arriving before April 20 can have a negative effect on their market.

If a deal is reached, Holzworth said it would be signed by both government and industry representatives of the countries, locking in the April 10 date for five years.

Holzworth credited the goodwill of the negotiators in trying to resolve the issue, and his “optimistic” belief is the deal could be done sometime in November.

“The important thing from the Chilean point of view is they don’t want to revisit this issue year after year,” he said.

Exporting without fumigation

Chilean exporters also believe that a recent USDA proposed rule that would establish phytosanitary protocols for a “systems approach” for Chilean grape exports to the U.S. should help exporters ship better-quality fruit to the U.S. At the same time, that would relieve concern about the earlier marketing order effective date. The so-called systems approach allows fruit undergoing certain safeguards to be shipped to the U.S. without methyl bromide fumigation. Exporters say avoiding fumigation would better preserve the cold chain and extend shelf life of Chilean grapes.

Holzworth said another proposed rule being considered by the USDA would open the door of access to the U.S. market for Chilean oranges and grapefruit.

Although the issues of the grape marketing order and the other proposed rules are not linked, Chilean exporters would like to bring resolution to all three.

“It seems to be a good ending to a long, tough set of negotiations,” he said.

Indeed, the issue has been a long-running feud between Chilean and Californian interests.

In 2001, California desert grape growers filed an anti-dumping petition against Chilean grape imports.

In 2005, a proposed rule from the USDA would have moved the date of the marketing order to April 1. That was never adopted, however, and the Chilean industry raised questions of the justification for the rule change and whether the proposal was a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the U.S.-Chilean Free Trade Agreement.

Chilean growers and exporters earlier have said the April 1 minimum inspection requirement could have resulted in a rejection rate of 20% or more and make the U.S. market too risky for Chilean exporters. That, they said, would deprive both U.S. consumers and the trade of seedless grapes during part of April and May.

The role of the marketing order in regulating imported grapes has been an issue since 1985, Holzworth noted.