Exports already have been a sizable chunk of U.S. pear shipments and that is likely to increase in the upcoming season, particularly with reports of a short crop coming out of Europe, industry officials say.

According to the World Apple and Pear Association, European growers predict a significantly lower crop this year from 18 top-producing member states of the European Union — down 22% compared to 2011.

The organization reported the total crop in 2012 will reach 2.06 million metric tons, compared to 2.63 million in 2011.

The 2012 forecast crop is 17% lower than the average crop of the last three years, according to WAPA.

Those losses could translate into gains for a U.S. industry that already exports a sizable percentage of its crop, according to U.S. growers and shippers.

“We’ve seen some of the reports, and that could open up some room in that market,” said Addie Pobst, integrity-sustainability-import coordinator with Sedro-Woolley, Wash.-based CF Fresh.

That would only enhance an export business that already has drawn interest from Asia, Pobst said.

Shippers estimate as much as a third of the U.S. pear crop hits the export market. The Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest said it plans to be involved in export promotions in 38 countries worldwide.

The organization said it will have 20 international marketing representatives coordinating promotional activities that are customized to suit the specific needs of a particular export market.

Shippers say they’re ready.

“We expect reasonably strong demand for pears in Europe,” said Maureen Royal, saleswoman with Bridges Produce, Portland, Ore.

She said India is among the strongest growth markets for Northwest pears. Pear Bureau Northwest agreed with that assessment.

According to Pear Bureau Northwest, the top export markets for U.S. pears will remain Mexico, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and India.

Export demand is strong, said Tim Evans, general sales manager with Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, Wash.

“We continue to grow our percentage of export on pears significantly in the last couple of years,” he said, saying his company has had particular success in markets in the Middle East, as well as Central and South America.

The exchange rate of the U.S. dollar should have little to no effect on export shipments, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.

“The dollar exchange hasn’t changed much, and our products are very attractive to these export markets,” he said, adding pears are a “huge export item” in high demand.

Mexico is the largest export market for Northwest pears, last year having taken 3.5 million 44-pound equivalent cartons, according to Dan Kelly, assistant manager with the Washington Growers Clearing House, Wenatchee. Canada was second, at 1.4 million.

Brazil took 525,000 cartons, which was a 58% jump from the year before, Kelly said.

Russia has been a bigger player among Northwest pear recipients, taking 345,000 boxes last year, Kelly said.

Russia, which is on a course to join the World Trade Organization by the end of the summer, likely will increase its imports of Northwest pears as it lowers its tariff from 10% to 5% as part of the process, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Horticultural Council.

“It’s not a huge amount, but everything counts,” Powers said.

To further encourage increased pear shipments to Russia, Congress needs to pass permanent normalized trade relations with Russia, Powers said.

“Hopefully, Congress will do that when they return from their August recess,” Powers said.

Vigorous market access to India for Nothwest pears — India received 148,000 cartons a year ago, Kelly said — has been accomplished in spite of a 30% tariff.

“That doesn’t really have a chance of coming off in the near term,” Powers said of the tariff.

An untapped export opportunity is China, Powers said, adding that the industry continues to press for access to that market.

“We appear to be getting closer in terms of getting a work plan in place,” he said.

He said he was not sure whether any of the 2012 Northwest pear crop will make it to China.

“It’s very hard to predict how the regulatory branches of foreign governments will make progress or not and what the timelines are, but hopefully we’ll see something in place within the next year,” Powers said.