U.S. Proposal to Allow Importation of Citrus Fruit from Mainland China Attracts Concern

Domestic growers and state regulators have raised concern about a proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture\'s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to allow the importation into the continental United States of commercial consignments of five species of fresh citrus fruit from mainland China. The fruits covered by this proposal are fresh pomelo, mandarin orange, ponkan, sweet orange and Satsuma mandarin.

As previously reported, APHIS is proposing to establish a number of safeguards on such imports to prevent the introduction of injurious agricultural pests. As a condition of entry, the citrus fruit would have to be produced in accordance with a systems approach that includes requirements for registration of places of production and packinghouses, sourcing of pest-free propagative material, inspection for quarantine pests at set intervals by the national plant protection organisation of mainland China, bagging of fruit, safeguarding, post-harvest processing and sampling, and importation in commercial consignments. In addition, APHIS would require places of production to trap for several species of Bactrocera fruit flies and the fruit would have to be treated for those fly species. The types of traps and baits to be used, the minimum number of traps per acre that must be deployed, the requisite distance between each trap, and the intervals at which the traps would have to be serviced would be specified in the operational work plan. 

Moreover, consignments would have to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate issued by the NPPO of mainland China that declares that the conditions for importation have been met and the consignments have been inspected and found free of quarantine pests. Finally, the NPPO of mainland China would have to provide an operational work plan to APHIS that details the activities it will carry out to meet these requirements. If the work plan is approved, APHIS would be directly involved with the NPPO in monitoring and auditing the systems approach implementation, which may potentially involve site visits by APHIS personnel. 

The National Plant Board, an organisation of all U.S. state plant regulatory agencies, suggested in a submission to APHIS dated 27 October that additional safeguards are needed to prevent the introduction of potentially devastating pests from mainland China. The submission notes that of the 22 quarantine pests that may follow the pathway of commercial consignments of fresh citrus fruit from mainland China into the continental United States, six are rated as having a high likelihood for introduction. The association states that each of these six pests poses a significant risk to U.S. citrus, grain, or fruit and vegetable agriculture. While APHIS is proposing 23 mitigation measures and systems that would be employed by the NPPO of mainland China, the NPB believes that "information gaps such as a lack of production and harvest information in production areas, suggested cold treatment for fruit flies when at least one species is tolerant to cold treatment, and non-mandatory inspection of consignments at the port of entry, raise a serious level of concern." The NPB adds that it is "willing to review new and supplemental information that will provide additional safeguards for this proposed importation" but is currently "not supportive of this proposed regulation change."

In a separate submission the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services-Division of Plant Industry recommended that APHIS prevent any importation of mainland Chinese fresh citrus fruit into Florida "as the risk associated with an accidental/incidental introduction of a citrus pest would be devastating to Florida agriculture." The agency is especially concerned with 13 pests of quarantine significance that could be introduced into the state from mainland China and notes that Florida is a sentinel state for exotic pests and has a citrus industry that is already challenged with exotic pest issues.

Finally, a citrus marketing co-operative that serves 3,500 California and Arizona citrus growers also expressed concern about the introduction into those states of potentially destructive pests in a 27 October submission to APHIS, stressing that citrus growers "can ill afford to accept additional risks" given the exotic pest and disease challenges inflicted upon the industry in recent years. The co-operative is also surprised about the designation of the proposed rule as "not significant" for purposes of Executive Order 12866 even though mainland China is the world\'s largest citrus producing country in terms of dedicated acreage and its entry into the U.S. market "has the potential to have a significant economic impact on the US citrus industry both in terms of volume and price, especially when considering the substantial support and subsidization provided by government entities in China to this sector of the Chinese economy." EO 12866 defines a "significant regulatory action" as an action having an annual effect on the economy of US$100 million or more or adversely affecting in a material way the economy, a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or state, local or tribal governments or communities. Significant regulatory actions must be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

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