The U.S. fresh produce industry is requesting an extension to the comment period on proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection fee increases.

Comments are due June 24 on the proposal to increase Agricultural Quarantine Inspection Program user fees to help the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service recoup border and port inspection costs.

The proposal calls for raising user fees for commercial aircraft inspections from $70.75 to $225, commercial maritime cargo vessels from $496 to $825, and commercial trucks with toll transponders from $105 to $320 a year.

Because the industry needs more time to study how the proposed fee increases could harm shipments, the United Fresh Produce Association has requested a 60-day comment period extension.

“Given that data indicates that fresh fruit and vegetable imports have nearly tripled in the last 20 years and USDA forecasts continued growth in imports, the impact of fee increases and requirements is of tremendous importance to the fresh fruit and vegetable industry,” Robert Guenther, the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh’s senior vice president of public policy, stated in June 5 comments.

Comment extension sought for import inspection fees“We believe it is imperative that stakeholders have additional time to assess the impact of the proposed fee changes. An extension of the comment period is needed to allow our industry members to fully analyze and comment on what those changes could mean for their operations and their ability to provide all Americans with a plentiful and diverse supply of fresh produce, and to remain economically viable.”

Customs broker Raymond Keffer, vice president of operations for Inglewood, Calif.-based J&K Fresh LLC, urges the industry to comment on the proposed fees.

“J&K Fresh is extremely concerned with the proposed rule, which adds a new user fee for imported cargo requiring treatment as a condition of entry,” he stated in a June 17 e-mail. “Although there has been no fee in the past, the rule proposes a $375 fee for each fumigation treatment and a $375 fee for each cold-treatment, including “in transit” cold treatment. All parties involved in the supply chain of imported fresh produce requiring treatment need to get involved. APHIS must be made aware of the negative impact this fee will have on the produce business, especially small businesses.”

The USDA also proposes adjusting hourly rates charged when APHIS employees perform work associated with inspections on Sundays, holidays or other after-hours periods.

The proposal also increases fees for commercial trucks without APHIS transponders from $5.25 to $8 per crossing.