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Published September 16, 2011, 11:03 AM

Western Australia allows U.S. cherry exports

YAKIMA, Wash. — After 10 years of negotiations, sweet cherry growers in the United States can now export their products to western Australia, marking the first U.S. fresh fruit to gain access to that market, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

By: Shannon Dininny, Associated Press

YAKIMA, Wash. — After 10 years of negotiations, sweet cherry growers in the United States can now export their products to western Australia, marking the first U.S. fresh fruit to gain access to that market, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced says.

The decision raises hope that other fresh fruit products could be shipped there in the years ahead, experts say.

California cherry growers have had access to states in eastern Australia since the late 1990s, and Washington and Oregon have been permitted to export cherries there since 2001. Negotiations to gain access to western Australia have been ongoing since, and the agreement enabled the first cherry shipment into Perth, Australia, last month, the USDA said in a statement.

U.S. cherry growers shipped $1.4 million in cherries to eastern Australia when the market first opened in 1999. That grew to $15.6 million in 2009.

Australia has long been cautious about allowing imports of fruits and vegetables, however, to prevent pests and diseases from entering the island and to protect the market for its domestic growers, said Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs for the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Cherry exports to Australia overall could dramatically increase with the agreement, which adds more than 2 million people to the Australian market for U.S. cherry growers, said Willett, whose organization works to address policy issues affecting tree fruit growers and shippers in the Northwest. While that may not be a huge number of people, it's a population that is generally fairly well off financially, he said.

“There's no question that these kinds of products are produced in Australia, but Australians all tell me that there aren't a lot of choices for fruits and vegetables in the winter there,” Willett said. “There's definitely a demand.”

U.S. cherries do not compete directly with Australia's domestically produced cherries because their growing seasons are different.

This agreement could spell good news for apple and other fruit growers who also are trying to gain access to the Australian market, Willett said.

Washington is the nation's largest apple producer, growing about half the U.S. crop.

China, which is by far the largest apple producing country, reached an agreement with Australia within the past year to ship apples there. And last month, New Zealand apple growers gained access to the Australia market for the first time in nearly a century.

“We're hopeful that we will soon get U.S. apples into the country,” he said. “Then, the question is going to be, ‘Who is going to be able to, day in and day out, deliver the highest quality fruit to the market.’”

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