Future Produce Exports To Pacific Rim Fraught With Challenges

Asian Marketplace

Though viewed as a general market area, Pacific Rim Asia presents a hodgepodge of varying cultures, political systems and regulations, making it challenging to identify export requirements. “You can’t lump Asia into a large group and say the regulations and standards are higher across the board,” states Richard Owen, vice president of global business development for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) in Newark, DE. “Different countries have different levels of standards.”

These variances present inimitable trials for exporting. “Meeting different regulations for every country can be challenging,” reports Jo Ann Carbone, export manager for Seald Sweet in Vero Beach, FL. “But it is attainable, especially through experience.”

The Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, WA, notes though grade standards tend to be fairly consistent other regulatory standards frequently vary. “These must be carefully managed to ensure compliance upon arrival,” explains Mark Powers, executive vice president of the Council. “Common examples of such regulations are those involving pesticide maximum residue levels (MRL’s) or country-specific plant health work plans. In some cases, countries put barriers in place serving no purpose other than to limit the supply of imports. Increasingly the business risk associated with regulatory compliance is significant.”

Korea and Japan reportedly represent the pinnacle when it comes to tough regulations. “They are used to having high standards for food safety and phytosanitary issues and are very demanding importers,” reports Owen. “China is moving in that direction, but it is still more forgiving because it needs the product.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the developing countries. “Countries such as Vietnam or Cambodia don’t have the capacity yet to maintain the standards or regulations as in a developed economy,” says Owen. “This presents opportunity in bringing them up to par on standards. But, the downside is they’re less tolerant if they perceive a threat to their domestic production.”

The recently much lauded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aspires to level discrepancies in the region. “This past fall, 12 countries in the Pacific Rim reached agreement on the TPP, which reduces tariffs particularly for U.S. exporters,” explains Owen. “This agreement aims to create a level playing field across the entire region — to help bring all the countries to a more consistent and fair standard and how they apply those.”

If the TPP is implemented, the produce industry stands to benefit in a number of ways. “Tariffs will be eliminated on many produce products in Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia,” describes James Christie, president of Bryant Christie Inc. in Sacramento, CA. “Specific examples include the tariff reduction on cherries, apples, and pears. Japan’s tariff on fresh cherries (8.5 percent) will be immediately reduced by 50 percent upon implementation and then completely eliminated in six years. Japan’s tariff on fresh apples (17 percent) will immediately be reduced by 25 percent upon implementation and then completely eliminated in 11 years. Japan’s fresh pear tariff (4.8 percent) will be removed upon implementation. Vietnam’s tariff (10 percent) and Malaysia’s tariff (5 percent) on fresh cherries, apples and pears will be eliminated immediately.”

While duties have reduced over time, non-tariff barriers continue to pose a challenge. “Phytosanitary barriers had a tendency to increase in the past five to 10 years as countries realize there is no other way to protect their growers,” reports Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wanatchee, WA. “In places like Japan, we have access duty-wise, but the phyto issues are still so difficult it is hard to deliver.”

Increasing implementation of food safety regulations calls for greater industry and government involvement to prevent non-tariff barriers. “Many less-developed countries in Asia are now developing their food safety and traceability regulations and the U.S. government is working with those countries to ensure the regulations are not detrimental to trade,” reports Susan Day, vice president international marketing for the California Table Grape Commission in Fresno, CA.

Rapidly evolving pesticide maximum residue level (MRL) standards create challenges for exporters as well. “This is particularly the case in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea,” says Christie. “They test frequently for MRLs on imported produce, their standards often differ from U.S. and international standards, and the consequences for MRL violations can be quite severe for individual suppliers and commodities as a whole. U.S. produce exporters should be comparing U.S. and export market MRL standards before they apply crop protection materials and certainly before they export. Fortunately, global MRL standards are available to all U.S. suppliers at www.globalmrl.com.”