(Jan. 5) Strength will follow strength for U.S. citrus exporters in Japan, as sales in 2003-04 are expected to rise after a strong season in 2002-03.

A favorable exchange rate between the yen and the dollar gives buyers in Japan 10% more purchasing power, and strong quality from California and Florida also should help sales, industry and government sources said in December.

A mid-December report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service said U.S. orange exports to Japan in 2002-03 totaled 90,955 metric tons, up 16% from the previous year.

Tokyo traders contacted by the USDA said they expected another strong year for 2003-04.

Koji Suzuki, vice president of Jaspo Inc., Bellevue, Wash., said Dec. 15 that Japanese market conditions weren’t all that strong in mid-December. However, he said the lull wasn’t unexpected.

“This is the time of the year buyers complain,” he said, noting that Japanese mandarin supply weighs on the citrus market in December and January.

The strongest movement of U.S. citrus will be in March and April, when Japan’s domestic volume falls and U.S.supplies reach their peak volume and eating quality.

“The Japanese mikan mandarin has to taper off before the orange can be sold heavier,” he said.

He noted the exchange rate in mid-December was 107 Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar, compared with 119 yen to the dollar in early January 2003 and a 131 yen-dollar value in early January 2002.

That translates to a 10% gain in the value of the yen compared to a year ago and a gain of nearly 20% in two years.

While the U.S. supplied 74.8% of the Japanese orange market in 2002, South Africa, Australia and Chile are increasing their exports to Japan.