This week, the first shipments of fresh California plums were exported to China by several industry grower/packers, an arrangement more than a decade in the making. The first shipments departed on the Fourth of July according to the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

“Clearly, this is a significant advancement for the California plum industry,” said Blair Richardson, CTFA president. “Successful access to new markets – especially those of the magnitude of China – is a win for all involved. We could not be more thrilled with the initial shipments of fresh California plums to China.”

Following the trade agreement signed by Chinese officials and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in December 2005, Chinese government officials visited the industry in May to review the implementation of the agreed upon work plan. Their analysis indicated California’s plum industry performed as expected and final approval for shipment was announced on July 1, 2006. Rapid response from U.S. government officials allowed county inspectors the opportunity to approve phytosanitary certificates by the afternoon of July 3, 2006. The first shipment of fresh California plums was inspected, sealed and shipped the morning of July 4, 2006. That shipment of plums is now on the way to mainland China and should arrive in a few short weeks.

In anticipation of the Chinese market opening, CTFA has coordinated dynamic educational and promotional programs from Beijing to Shanghai and down through Guangzhou in southern China. These programs are designed to educate consumers about the excellent flavor and health benefits of fresh California plums. Once the plums arrive in China, CTFA will work closely with importers and supermarket chains on marketing and handling efforts.

The California peach, plum, and nectarine industry has been working toward gaining access for California plums since 1994. Thanks to the consistent efforts of industry leaders, researchers and government officials, including advocacy from Governor Schwarzenegger’s office during a trade trip in November 2005, fresh plum growers from five California counties now have access to one of the world’s most exciting markets. The five counties include: Fresno, Tulare, Kern, Kings and Madera.

China’s growing urban population and a rapidly expanding economy means Chinese consumers are demanding more imported agricultural goods. The total value of Chinese agricultural imports was $25.9 billion in 2004, which was a 50 percent increase over the prior year.

California plum exports in 2005 were approximately 4.5 million boxes with Taiwan and Hong Kong constituting one-third of that total. Within five years, China is estimated to surpass Canada as the number one plum export market for California. The industry originally expected to ship up to 500,000 28-pound packages of fresh California plums to China this year, but due to timing of the approval and a short crop the estimate has been revised to 300,000 to 350,000 packages.

The California Tree Fruit Agreement, headquartered in Reedley, Calif., administers marketing order programs on behalf of California’s 2,000 fresh peach, plum and nectarine farmers. Originally established in 1933, CTFA includes the Peach Commodity Committee and the Nectarine Administrative Committee, both federal programs, and the California Plum Marketing Board, a state program.