(UPDATED COVERAGE, Sept. 13) A new nonprofit organization aims to represent the interests of importers and distributors of fresh produce.

Called the Fresh Produce Import Alliance, the group was formally established the first week of August, according to a news release. The group includes importers, custom brokers, exporters, grower-shippers, ocean carriers, freight haulers and cold storage facilitates, according to the release.

The release said the alliance board of directors is comprised of industry professionals who are volunteering their time a diversified group of industry professionals who will work to help federal agencies in achieving their goals while also reducing import costs and increasing efficiencies so that the perishable cargo can be cleared for import soon.

Risks to importing fresh produce must be contained or there will be a significant reduction in import volumes at major ports, according to the release.

Sandy Marujo, grower liaison with Seven Seas Fruit, Woodbridge, N.J., said the alliance has no paid staff.

Most of the members are located in the Philadelphia region but the group aspires to be national in scope, she said.

Custom brokers are the core of the group currently, she said.

“If we are all on the same page and have strength in numbers, we can approach the government agencies and their regulations and maybe get some answers and not so much the run-around,” she said.

Nelly Yunta, vice president, Customized Brokers, a Crowley Maritime Corporation Subsidiary. Jacksonville, Fla., said the alliance will aim to address issues related to perishables imported through Northeast ports.

"We hope to be able to contribute to this group and the trade by bringing awareness to the trade and government about issues directly affecting imports, and also actively assist in solving those problems," Yunta said.  "In our most recent efforts, we visited U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington to discuss the Centralized Examination Station (CES) process and the increased costs and additional delays incurred in the New York and New Jersey ports."

 All industry members who might be interested in being a part of the group are encouraged to attend the next general open meeting of the alliance, set for Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. at the Wyndham hotel in Mount Laurel, N.J. For more information e-mail the FPIA organization at: info@fpia.org.