Efforts to renew roughly $70 million in exports of California citrus to China soured after China backed away from an apparent agreement struck in November with the United States.

Trade talks between the two trading partners seemed to indicate that shipments of California citrus would resume by Christmas after several discoveries of brown rot earlier in the year shut down shipments of the fruit to China. The restriction affected only California citrus.

A delegation of U.S. Department of Agriculture officials traveled to China in November with California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen to address the issue. Several other U.S. agricultural commodities were also represented in the trade talks as China apparently had issues with apples, berries and potatoes coming from the United States as well.

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According to Nelsen, all that was apparently needed was for China to formally agree to the talks that took place the first week of November. For citrus, the agreement would require California citrus growers to skirt their trees, apply a foliar treatment to the trees to provide a barrier against brown rot, and for citrus packinghouses to use a post-harvest treatment prior to exporting citrus to China.

“As long as China was happy, we were happy,” Nelsen said. “China is a significant market for the citrus industry.”

Rather than receiving a formal agreement by Christmas, Nelsen was informed by the USDA that China is demanding a full review of potassium phosphite, which was slated to be used as a post-harvest material, before China would accept shipments of California citrus. It is unclear how long that formal review process will take, much less when shipments of California citrus to China can resume.

“This was never part of the deal,” Nelsen said.

“We sent all our information to China ahead of the meetings and were told it shouldn’t be a problem,” Nelsen continued. “That’s why we were feeling optimistic after our talks.”

According to CCM Board Chairman and Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Association General Manager Kevin Severns, China has some questions about potassium phosphite, which is considered a nutrient.

Severns said potassium phosphite has typically been applied pre-harvest and only recently is being considered for post-harvest treatment. The OCSC is working to incorporate application equipment into its packinghouse wash lines in anticipation of the Chinese decision.

News of China’s decision not only caused much displeasure with U.S. officials, who thought they had an agreement, but will impact China’s efforts to export fresh produce items into the United States, Nelsen said.