(June 15) California grape grower-shippers didn’t seem enthusiastic about Vietnam’s agreement to gradually reduce tariffs. However, the decision might provide more opportunities for grape exporters.

Vietnam agreed May 31 that its membership in the World Trade Organization would hinge, in part, on a five-year, incremental reduction of tariffs on California grapes, from 25% to 10%.

Even a small drop in the tariff can make a big difference, said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno.

“Vietnamese consumers prefer California grapes,” she said, “but the high tariff created a big price difference between our grapes and the Chinese grapes.”

A Table Grape Commission news release reported exports to Vietnam have more than doubled in the past five years. Vietnam purchased 462,154 19-pound boxes in 2005 compared to 178,182 boxes in 2000, the commission said. The commission reported the California table grape crop in 2005 was 96 million boxes.

Jeff Kilburn, president of Royal Fruit & Vegetable Inc., Fresno, said the tariff change would have no effect on his company.

The bulk of Royal Fruit & Vegetable’s grape exports go to Pacific Rim nations, Kilburn said, and he said he does not believe the demand for Cali-fornia grapes in Vietnam will be strong enough for his company to focus on sales to the country.

Lisa Chorbajian, saleswoman for Pinnacle Trading International Inc., Hollister, Calif., visited the country and met with Vietnamese buyers in 1994 before Pinnacle Trading first sent grapes to the country.

Because of difficulties encountered when selling to Vietnamese buyers and the high tariff, the company has not sold to Vietnam in about 10 years, she said. The tariff reduction would not spur Pinnacle Trading to resume exports to Vietnam, she said.

Though Pinnacle Trading suffered no losses in previous transactions with Vietnamese buyers, Chorbajian said without the benefit of long-term business relationships there would be too much exposure for the exporter.