( )

The Irvine-based California Avocado Commission is hopeful that its 14-year effort to gain access to the Chinese market soon may pay off.

A January letter prepared by commission officials and signed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and eight members of Congress from California encouraged U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and other U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to push for access to the China market.

In a message to commission board members, president Tom Bellamore and vice president industry affairs Ken Melban said the commission has been working through the “system” to move its request forward since 2005.

“Obviously, the process has moved very slowly,” they said.

But they said USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would be involved in technical meetings soon to “discuss phytosanitary matters including market access for California avocados.”

“In anticipation of these technical bilateral meetings, we decided to increase our pressure on USDA,” they said.

“It is our hope USDA will genuinely make every effort to finalize the California hass avocado agreement as soon as possible,” the two wrote to board members.

The letter pointed out that California’s 2,000 avocado farmers produce more than 90% of the U.S. avocado crop and 100% of the hass avocados, “yet they have not gained the same level of access to China as competing countries.”

Mexico, Chile and Peru have achieved market access to China for their avocados, the letter said, and demand for avocados is experiencing growth in that country, where there is no commercial avocado production.

“It is imperative that California avocado farmers be afforded the same opportunities as their competitors,” the letter stated.

Chinese officials already have conducted a technical inspection of California avocado groves, according to the letter.

Since that visit, China Customs and APHIS have been working to establish a pest risk analysis, which would enable a work plan for market access to be created and shipments of California avocados could begin.

Bellamore said he is optimistic about the effect of the letter and the commission’s trade effort.

“We remain hopeful that it might move forward this season,” he said.

California avocado suppliers say they are eager to gain access to the China market.
“China is a big market potentially,” said Rankin McDaniel, owner and president of McDaniel Fruit Co., Fallbrook, Calif.

“It’s growing pretty rapidly, being fueled by Mexican and Southern Hemisphere hass avocados primarily,” he said.

“I’m very much in support of opening up that particular part of Asia that currently isn’t open and getting them exposed to the quality of the California avocado.”

Dana Thomas, president and CEO of Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif., said he “would love” to see California avocados secure access to the China market.

“Access to the Chinese market would be wonderful,” he said.

“It’s a growing market,” Thomas said. “It’s something that could help California growers, and it would provide the opportunity to (export) a good quality piece of fruit in the Chinese market.”

Fallbrook-based Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc. already sends fruit from Mexico to China, said partner Bob Lucy.

“I think the ability to send fruit to China would be a good opportunity,” he said. 
Shipping to China may not have much of an impact on the California industry this year because of the small avocado crop, he said.

“But if we have a bumper crop in 2020, it would be wonderful to offer some fruit to China.” 

“I’m hoping it happens,” he added. “I think it will be a slow process, but I welcome the idea of getting the market opened up.”