Federal and state officials report that progress during recent trade negotiations with China could mean U.S. apple growers will again be able to export red and golden delicious varieties to the country in early 2014.

China closed its borders to those varieties from the U.S. in August 2012 because of concerns about postharvest decay and disease issues. Growers in the U.S. saw their apple exports plummet from 9,350 metric tons in 2010 to only 366 metric tons in the first nine months of 2013.

Just before Christmas, however, U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack returned from Beijing and the 24th U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade with optimistic comments. He specifically mentioned progress regarding U.S. apples and citrus fruit.

“My discussions with Premier Li Keqiang and other Chinese leaders laid the groundwork for future cooperation related to our shared interests in food security, food safety, and sustainability, as well as the expansion of export opportunities for American farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said in a news release Dec. 23.

Washington state officials and growers are also hopeful the Chinese government will soon lift the ban on red and golden delicious apples from the U.S.

A trade delegation of more than 100 people, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Agriculture Department director Bud Hover, visited China in late November, said Mike Louisell, public information officer for the department.

Hover told the Tri-City Herald newspaper in Kennewick, Wash., he believes the Chinese may allow U.S. apples and potatoes into their country soon after Chinese New Year, which is Jan. 31.