All varieties of Japanese apples will be allowed into the U.S., under a proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but volumes will be limited if the plan is approved.

The USDA proposal, published March 10, would allow all varieties of fresh apples from Japan into the U.S. with the same phytosanitary restrictions that Japanese fujis currently meet. Fuji apple imports from Japan and South Korea are allowed into the U.S. if the fruit is cold treated and fumigated for pests under the supervision of USDA inspectors.

The agency said that Japanese fuji apple imports comprised only 0.1% of U.S. apple imports in 2008 and allowing other apples won’t change that figure dramatically. Comments on the proposal will be accepted until May 10, the agency said.

In 2009, Japan shipped $228,000 — less than 14,000 40-pound cartons — of fresh fujis to the U.S., up 5% from the previous season. The value of Japanese fujis was about $60 per carton in 2004 but just $16 per carton in 2009, according to USDA statistics.

The USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service alerted the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association about the proposed rule.

“As long as they meet our phytosanitary conditions, then the industry will look favorably at it,” said Nancy Foster, president of the apple association.

The Japanese market for U.S. apples opened in 1995, but expensive phytosanitary measures have dimmed U.S. interest. USDA statistics show U.S. apple exports to Japan have been sporadic, totaling $215 million in 2008 but falling to zero in 2009.

Jim Archer, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters, Yakima, Wash., said Northwest shippers haven’t found the Japanese market to be profitable in recent years.

“We haven’t had any interest in qualifying any fruit for Japan,” Archer said.