Led by a big bump in grape exports and double-digit growth for apples, U.S. fresh fruit exports to Mexico are up 31% from October 2011 to June 2012 compared with the previous year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that U.S. fresh fruit exports to Mexico were $361 million so far in fiscal year 2012, led by $151 million in conventional apple sales and $48 million in fresh organic apples sales. The gain in conventional apples sales from October to June notched a 27% increase, while sales of organic apples rose a whopping 479% compared with the same period a year ago.

The gains were even more dramatic for U.S. grape exports to Mexico. The USDA said that export sales of U.S. fresh grapes to Mexico from October to June tallied $54 million, more than double compared with the same period a year earlier.

A big part of the gain in fruit sales is related to last October’s drop in Mexico's tariffs tied to the Mexico-U.S. truck dispute, industry leaders said.

“Clearly we felt that going into this year and putting the tariff issue behind us, we thought things should get better,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Fresno.

Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, said the 45% tariff Mexico initially imposed in 2009 related to the truck dispute caused California shippers to lose about 70% of the export market in Mexico.

In the 2011 season — from about May 1 to January 2012 — Nave said California exported 5.6 million boxes to Mexico, nearly matching the pre-tariff level. “With the tariff removed, we regained the marketplace,” she said.

The initial retaliatory tariff on U.S. table grape exports to Mexico, put in place in 2009, was 45%. That was later reduced to 20% and eventually 10%. The tariff was finally removed in October 2011. “We anticipate that 2012 will be a really good season in Mexico,” Nave said.

Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs for the Northwest Horticulture Council, said there are no outstanding issues preventing apple export sales to Mexico.

“We’re moving all the volume we can move at the price the market is willing to bear down there,” he said.

Fresh pear sales to Mexico tallied $37.7 million from October 2011 to June 2012, while organic pears sales were $5 million, according to the USDA.

Other major U.S. fresh fruit exports to Mexico from October to June included peaches/nectarines ($14.6 million, up 16%), kiwifruit ($9.1 million, up 13%) and plums ($5.3 million, up 27%).

Regional strengths

Canada was the leading market for U.S. fresh fruit exports from October 2011 to June 2012, with $1.15 billion in sales, up 4.9% from October 2011 to June 2012. Japan, the No. 2 export market for fresh fruit exporters, recorded a 6% increase with $385 million in sales.

Total U.S. fruit export sales, at $3.46 billion from October to June, were up 8.8% from the same period a year ago, with gains in North America and East Asia overcoming declines in sales to Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

Exports of U.S. fruit were off 18% to the Middle East from October to June.

The weakening euro has resulted in more aggressive export competition from European apple suppliers in the Middle East market, said Nick Kukulan, president of Oakland, Calif.-based Paramount Export Co. France, Spain and Italy have become bigger competitors in the Middle Eastern market, in addition to low-priced apples from China.

Kukulan said export sales of U.S. apples should be strong this fall, as Chile and New Zealand both are expected to clean up soon. “It is going to be even a stronger season for North America,” he said.