As any good economist can tell you, one of the biggest emerging markets for U.S. goods can be found halfway around the world — in China.
With a growing economic outreach and hunger for food staples and products alike, some formerly closed markets in China are now opening up to U.S. imports.
On Jan. 25 the U.S. Department of Agriculture began issuing its first permits to export pears to China. For the first time in history, U.S.-grown pears have officially gained access to the Chinese market.
“Everyone is really excited. This is a market we’ve been working to open for over 20 years,” said Diamond Fruit President and CEO David Garcia. “Of course there are some logistics we have to work out. Every country has its own rules to abide by; what they allow and don’t. We’re trying to get a handle on that.”
According to Kevin D. Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of Pear Bureau Northwest, after two decades of negotiations, success finally came after bilateral talks were held last September.
One key point helped tip the scales. Previous Chinese concerns over fire blight transmission from U.S. pears to Chinese varieties was allayed after a recent study found that the disease cannot be carried on fruit.
With that major obstacle tackled, U.S. pear farmers can now look forward to a robust sales future.
“Based on our exports to Hong Kong and Taiwan and the overall market size of China, it could easily rank among the top five export markets for USA Pears within the next two or three seasons,” said Moffitt.
According to Jeff Correa, director of international marketing at PBN, a significant amount of Northwest pears could already be exported to China in the first months of 2013. The first containers are slated to depart Feb. 31.
“Hood River might have some fruit on that shipment, but not Diamond’s, just yet,” said Garcia. “We’re hoping we’ll be on the next shipment.”
Garcia notes that the market specifics are especially good for Diamond growers, who produce about 45 percent of the entire Red Anjou crop in the mid-Columbia. Anjous are the preferred variety in the Chinese market and the Reds are even more highly prized.
Correa also confirms that China could become the top export market for red pear varieties, such as Starkrimson and Red Anjou, as red is seen as a desirable, auspicious color in Chinese culture. “That’s a big opportunity for us,” said Garcia.
According to Garcia, both Diamond and Duckwall-Pooley will have an advantage over other packing houses in the region for making these first early shipments of the 2012 crop.
The current Chinese regulations mandate zero tolerance for fruit arriving with decay. In order to assure that fruit stays fresh over the 3-4 week shipping time the crop in cold storage must be, in essence, carefully re-examined and culled before shipment.
Only Diamond and Duckwall-Pooley store their fruit unboxed and so can easily carry out the preparations required. Other packing houses will have to un-box their stored fruit, requiring increased time and labor.
“We have an advantage. Both houses are pre-size operations. We will be culling pears out of our controlled atmosphere storage that are still in bins. Other packing houses are not as willing to un-box and repack,” said Garcia.
As to what the market may bring for next year’s crop, Garcia expressed great optimism. “The potential is unlimited for us.”
“It will be interesting to see what varieties the Chinese will be most receptive to once we start to ship different types there,” said Parkdale orchardist Randy Kiokawa. “This will really benefit the valley.”
According to PBN, the organization is at the ready with a strong promotional strategy in place to take immediate advantage of the market opening.
PBN’s marketing representatives plan to conduct training seminars with participating Chinese retailers to educate them on how to properly handle and display USA Pears in order to maximize sales and profits.
Key retailers in the major East Coast cities, including Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, will be a focus.
Targeting importers and retailers who have already handled imports of Washington apples and California table grapes, the Pear Bureau will introduce promotional plans for the remainder of the season.
“The Pear Bureau and the Northwest pear industry have worked diligently with our partners at the Northwest Horticultural Council and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to bring this to fruition,” said Moffitt.
“We are appreciative of all involved for their dedication in gaining access for U.S.-grown pears to China.”