Bartlett pears ( File photo )

The Northwest pear industry likely will have to live without China this season, but export markets elsewhere appear to be wide open.

The export market appears to be a net positive for 2018, marketers say.

“It looks fairly good for the pear industry,” said Mark Powers, president of Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Horticultural Council.

China has retaliated against the U.S. for steel and aluminum tariffs, which means it would cost growers about 40% more to send fruit into that market this year than last, Powers said.

However, that shouldn’t make much of a dent in U.S. pear export shipments, he said.

“China is a relatively small market for our pear growers,” Powers said, noting competition from Europe had eroded U.S. pear volumes bound for the Chinese mainland. He said shipments to China last year totaled 30-40 containers.

“While the Chinese market shrank to around 40,000 boxes (44-pound equivalents) and $900,000 in value, it ranked in the top-six export for fresh pears three years ago,” said Kevin Moffittt, president and CEO of the Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest.

“The pear bureau will be exploring new markets, such as Burma and Cambodia, for potential future export markets for U.S. pears.”

Northwest pears’ biggest market is Mexico, with nearly 2.2 million cartons annually, and that number appears attainable again this season, Powers said. Canada is next, at 900,000 units.

Exports to Central and South America total nearly 600,000 cartons, with the Middle East taking 400,000, Powers said.

Asia and the South Pacific take a combined 200,000 cartons yearly, Powers said.

“Europe basically is nonexistent. They have their own large pear industry,” he said.

Northwest pear exports could increase this year, Moffitt said.

“A larger Northwest pear crop should translate into an increase in the export movement this season,” he said. “The outlook in the top export markets is looking relatively positive.”

There are concerns with some exchange rates in Brazil, China’s retaliatory tariffs and competition from Europe in China, India, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, but, as of late July, the situation appeared to be more optimistic than it had been in early June, Moffitt said.

“The retaliatory tariffs will most likely limit most of the export opportunities in China for the upcoming season, but pears, fortunately, are not on the retaliatory lists in Mexico and India,” he said.

Mexico accounts for more than half of U.S. pear exports, Moffitt said.

“The top retailers in Mexico also have the flexibility to move to where there are the best opportunities — whether it be small sizes or large sizes, or certain varieties,” Moffitt said.

The Mexican peso was a potential concern after the July 1 Mexican presidential election, but the peso had rebounded in mid- to late August to 18.88 against the U.S. dollar — similar to the level it was last October, Moffitt said.

“Exchange rate concerns are most likely going to remain an issue in Brazil as their presidential election will not occur until October,” he said.

“Consequently, we might not see the Brazilian currency regain strength against the U.S. dollar until the end of the year.”

As of Aug. 3, India’s rupee had slid 4.6% against the dollar over a 10-month period, but there still should be more opportunities in India for U.S. pears this season with the continuation of an Indian ban on Chinese pears, Moffitt said.

He also noted the Colombian peso was 6.2% stronger against the dollar, “and that should open up additional opportunities to that top-five export market.”

“With Chile being the biggest competitor in that market and having a smaller pear crop, there should be more opportunities to regain lost market share in Colombia this season,” Moffitt said.