The U.S. Department of Agriculture should move back the start of marketing order restrictions for Chilean grape imports for humanitarian reasons. The USDA’s Bob Keeney said the agency was still reviewing the request on March 17, but the decision on whether to hold the date at April 10 or move it to April 20 or perhaps April 30 may have already been made by the time you read this.
What makes the decision far from sure are the mixed messages from Chile in the aftermath of the 8.8 magnitude earthquake of Feb. 27.
Is it doom and gloom or business as usual? On one hand, the arguments in support of moving back the date of the California desert grape marketing order point to “widespread and catastrophic damage” to Chile’s infrastructure.
On the other hand, the export community has tried to reassure buyers with pronouncements late season shipments should be “relatively normal.”
A March 16 news release noted retail giant Wal-Mart has sent a letter in support of the petition to move the marketing order date. Wal Mart wrote: “Given the devastation and halt in the exports, we support the request of the government authorities and trade associations of the Delaware River region that the table grape marketing order be suspended for 10 days from April 10 to 20 of this year.”
The news release said the Feb. 27 massive earthquake caused “widespread and catastrophic damage to the Chilean port facilities and transportation infrastructure needed to transport the grape harvest.”
Later, the news release said: “Given the disruption in the Chilean harvest and shipments, Chile will lose the ability to distribute its crop – the voyage from Chile to the United States takes 10 to 14 days – without the temporary suspension of the import regulations. The Chilean industry estimates that 10 to 20 days of its harvest season will be delayed or lost.”
Despite all the compelling reasond to move the marketing order date back, the remarkable ability of Chilean exporters to adapt to the disaster, to roll with the punches from the quake and the subsequent aftershocks – have made the decision somewhat less clear-cut.
In their communications to the media from Chile, the Chilean Exporters Association has steadfastly stressed the ability of the country to bounce back from the 8.8 magnitude earthquake. While not exactly “Earthquake? What earthquake?” the export community has not appeared to be rattled by the quake in the least.
The first press release from the Chilean Exporters Association, from March 1: “Chile is well prepared for these types of seismic events and growers and exporters will continue to make every effort to meet previously established shipping goals.”