(Updated coverage Feb. 19, 3:47 p.m.)The U.S. Department of Agriculture has ruled that certain South African districts where citrus is grown are pest-free, an important step in allowing exports of grapefruit from those areas into the U.S.

One leading North American importer is excited about the prospects of importing grapefruit from the regions.

In the Feb. 9 Federal Register, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced it had declared 16 districts in three South African provinces free of pests that cause citrus black spot.

If shippers from those districts follow the appropriate phytosanitary protocols, they now have the green light to ship citrus to the U.S., said Alyn Kiel, an APHIS spokeswoman.

Officials at Montreal-based Fisher Capespan Inc. were excited about the prospects of bringing in Star Ruby grapefruit.

Moderate volumes will ship this year from the districts, which are ideally suited to grapefruit pro-duction, Marc Solomon, Fisher Capespan’s president, said in a news release.

South African grapefruit imported by Fisher Capespan will be available from the end of May through the end of July, he said. 

Joretha Geldenhuys, chief executive officer of the Citrusdal, South Africa-based Western Cape Citrus Producers' Forum, also was enthusiastic about the USDA ruling's possibilities.

“We are delighted with this ruling declaring these areas pest-free, which will allow the forum to export grapefruit to the United States for the first time,” Geldenhuys said in a news release.  “We can’t wait for consumers of our other summer citrus products in the United States to experience the great taste of our grapefruit as well,” she added. 

About 35,000 tons of navels, clementines and other South African citrus shipped to the U.S. in 2009, according to the forum. A similar amount was imported in 2008. Citrus exports to the U.S. could top 50,000 tons in 2010, forum officials have said.


UPDATED: Ruling paves way for South African grapefruit imports