The US Department of Agriculture should publish a proposed rule by late summer that would open the door for imports of Argentina lemons, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The office of management and budget has 90 days from mid-May to publish the rule, said Dale McNiel, a Washington, DC-based attorney hired to represent northwest Argentina lemon exporters.
Barring delays, that would put the deadline for publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register by mid-August, he said.
California citrus interests are concerned with the pest and disease risk associated with the imports of lemons from Argentina, said Jim Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Council, Auburn, Calif.
"We’re hoping that APHIS will provide a 90-day comment period if and when it comes out," Cranney said June 2.
The office of management and budget Web site, in its unified agenda of regulatory activities, said the proposed rule would permit lemons from northwest Argentina into the continental US.
With citrus canker and the black spot fungus primary disease concerns, the USDA said Argentina’s lemons would have to be produced in accordance to a systems approach that would include requirements for shipment in commercial consignments, a limited harvest period, registration and monitoring of places of production and other factors.
McNiel said Argentina’s lemon harvest primarily occurs between March and September.
The proposed rule will say that Argentina lemons could not be distributed in the citrus producing states of Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, according to the office of management and budget Web site.
McNiel said it doesn’t make sense that Argentina lemons should be precluded from shipping to Florida, since that state already has canker.
"It might be very appropriate to revisit the list of excluded states sometime down the line," he said. However, he said Argentina’s exporters likely will not challenge being excluded from citrus states in the current rulemaking.
Argentina lemon exporters are the biggest suppliers to the European market, but they have been blocked from the U.S. market in recent years. Total lemon exports from Argentina exceed 300,000 metric tons per year, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
Argentina had been allowed access to the U.S. in 2000 and shipped close to 1.5 million cartons to the market over a span of about one year. In 2001, the USDA reported Argentina shipped about 17,000 metric tons of fresh lemons to the U.S., or about half of total US lemon imports that year.
However, the US District Court for the Eastern District in Fresno, Calif., halted imports when it found problems in USDA pest risk assessment in the fall of 2001, particularly how the USDA described "negligible risk."
The USDA’s 2007 rule permitting Florida citrus from canker-infested areas to be shipped throughout the U.S. (excluding citrus states), opened the door for Argentina’s lemons to be considered for a similar protocol, McNiel said.
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