California Citrus Mutual (CCM) President Joel Nelsen has issued the following statement in response to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Argentine filing against the U.S. regarding the importation of Argentine lemons into the U.S. 

“Once again the Argentine government and the lemon producers in that country have decided that a political pathway is more conducive to exports than a scientific approach that identifies problems and solutions where warranted for trade.

Their attempt to reduce the phyto-sanitary process to a political solution, as was attempted over a decade ago, flies in the face of an existing WTO agreement regarding phyto-sanitary issues.

We will continue to support USDA/APHIS and USTR in their efforts to conduct a review using scientific methodology and vigorously partner with them to thwart a legal and political effort by the Argentine lemon industry.”

Several years ago USDA/APHIS commenced a pest risk assessment for Argentine lemons, but halted the effort upon discovery of a collateral pest, asking the Argentine government to address the situation before the assessment could be resumed. To our knowledge the USDA is still waiting for an answer.

“No doubt the Argentines will seek to resume the effort from where it left off years ago, but because of the significant time delay since the PRA was halted we do believe this effort should start over completely.”

A few months ago the Argentine Ambassador to the U.S. sought a meeting with U.S. officials and the California citrus industry to determine the scope of the debate.

“We met with him for an hour describing the sensitivity of our industry toward invasive pests and diseases. We emphasized that we have a history not opposing citrus imports as evident by the tremendous influx of imported citrus volume in the past decade. In fact so much citrus is entering the United States that the ability of our industry to compete with summer oranges is almost non-existent.”

“As a fresh oriented industry the California citrus industry is highly susceptible to problems associated with invasive pests and diseases. The ability to generate adequate revenues in the fresh market is directly correlated with the lack of pest and diseases in production areas.

CCM has long argued that bringing product in from designated disease free areas within pest and disease infested areas is extremely difficult. We monitor these petitions closely. We are a 3,900 producer-member industry, the vast majority of which are family farmers. We directly sustain over 12,000 jobs with indirectly support another 10,000 jobs in support industries.

“As we did in 1998-2001 we will vigorously defend our industry's ability to sustain itself without damage from imported pests and diseases. We don't necessarily like all the conclusions reached via the scientific process by the USDA but we don't attempt to circumvent them either. The Ambassador's effort to identify a solution has been undercut by the very industry he sought to represent.”