(UPDATED, May 4) Argentina lemons have the green light from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA said the final rule allowing Argentine lemon imports will go into effect May 26, when a 60-day stay on the regulation expires.
For 2017 and 2018, the USDA said Argentine lemons would be imported only into the northeastern U.S.
Depending on how final details are worked out between the countries, Mayda Sotomayor-Kirk, CEO of Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., said the firm expects to import lemons from Argentina this year.
“I don’t think Argentina’s (growers and exporters) will open the floodgates to the U.S.” Sotomayor-Kirk said May 2. “I think they are going to be extremely careful and abide by all the rules and they are going to show U.S. consumers, retailers and even the California producers that they do have the ability to come into this country and will do it with the correct science.
“We’re very happy and cautiously optimistic that nothing else will happen and they will get the right to (ship) lemons to the United States,” she said, noting Argentina’s growers have been seeking access to the U.S. for more than a decade.
Most of Argentina’s lemon volume typically comes in June and July.
Two days after Trump was sworn in as president, the USDA issued a 60-day stay on the Dec. 23 rule. At the time, the agency said it was acting in “accordance with guidance from the White House issued Jan. 20.” Another 60-day stay was issued in mid-March, with some attributing the second delay to the fact that Sonny Perdue had not yet then been confirmed as Agriculture Secretary.
Perdue was confirmed in late April, days before the USDA announced it wasn’t issuing another stay.
Trump and Argentine President Mauricio Macri met at the White House April 27. Trump said that day the U.S. was “very favorably disposed” to Argentina lemons.
“It is evident that the California citrus industry is the pawn in a greater trade deal between the Trump administration and Argentina,” Ventura County citrus grower and chair of the Santa Paula, Calif.- based U.S. Citrus Science Council Richard Pidduck said in the release.
Pidduck said May 4 that California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen and other citrus leaders were visiting with USDA officials in Washington, D.C.
“It doesn’t sound like the administration is very receptive, so we don’t feel like we are making much progress at this point,” he said. Pidduck said the citrus industry is developing a strategy, which may include a legal challenge.
“We did that once before in 2000 successfully, but that’s not our preferred pathway,” he said.
Pidduck said the primary concern with Argentina lemons is the risk of phytosantiary issues, notably citrus blackspot.
“We are very disturbed about being subjected to additional risks by the government,” he said. “They are not protecting us now, so we don’t have a great deal of confidence in the protections that they are insisting will work satisfactorily,”
“It appears that to President Trump’s Administration, the prosperity of the California citrus industry, which is one of the only fresh citrus industries in the world to have not been ravished by the devastating Huanglongbing disease, is not ‘critical to America’s national security, stability, and prosperity’,” Nelsen said in the release.
The USDA projects that Argentina may export from 15,000 to 20,000 metric tons of fresh lemons (825,000 cartons to 1.1 million 40-pound cartons) to the U.S. annually, or about 4% of the average total U.S. lemon production (2008-14) of 535,244 metric tons. Most Argentina lemons are expected to be shipped to the U.S. from April 1 to Aug. 31, according to the USDA. Based on imports of 18,000 metric tons, the USDA estimates that the effect of Argentina lemon exports to the U.S. will be a lemon price reduction of about 4%. Consumer welfare gains of $22.4 million will outweigh producer welfare losses of $19.9 million, according to the USDA.