Canadian cherries will be allowed into China in 2013 as part of a pilot project announced Gerry Ritz, the federal minister of agriculture. This is the first big step in six years of negotiation with China to allow B.C. cherries into the 1.35 billion strong market.
David Geen, VP of the BC Cherry Association, says the hang up is the stringent new regulations China has in place to prevent North American pests from getting into China. Geen says, “I don’t think it’s a trade barrier or protectionist move. It’s a hyper-cautious approach the Chinese are taking.”
At the same time, he notes that the U.S. secured access to the Chinese market 15 years ago when the protocols were much less stringent. Even though Washington and B.C. share essentially the same body of insect pests B.C. is struggling with much tougher restrictions than Washington growers did.
During the 2013 pilot project 35 growers who have registered to participate will be allowed to send cherries to China under the following restrictions: some cherries will be incubated by the Chinese for 25 days to see if any pests hatch, and; two Chinese inspectors will come to Canada to inspect all export shipments.
Geen admits that could cause some logistical problems as two inspectors will have a hard time looking at all shipments at peak shipping times.
If the pilot project uncovers no problems, says Geen, “The expectation is it’s a one year trial and we should have a permanent protocol by 2014.” At that time Canadian inspectors would take over from the two Chinese officials.
If the pilot project goes well and other growers decide they want in, they will still have to register, but there are no restrictions on how many growers can participate in the program.
Geen says access to the Chinese market is worth the hoop jumping. Even though the U.S. is already entrenched he says the Chinese market is so large that it can easily absorb the extra Canadian volumes. Imported cherries are a relative luxury, he says, but estimates about one-third of Chinese families can afford them. That one-third is more than 400 million people.
And, imported fruits have a caché as being healthier and better than anything grown in China. Finally, the Chinese cherry growers have a very short growing season because the monsoon season shut down operations by the end of June, just as Canadian exports are hitting their stride