(Jan. 20, 2:00 p.m.) In a rule that could ease tensions between Chilean exporters and early season California grape growers that dates back more than two decades, the effective date of California’s desert grape marketing order will be moved from April 20 to April 10 this year.

That means imported Chilean grapes have to meet U.S. No. 1 minimum quality standards 10 days earlier than last year.

Nick Bozick, president of Richard Bagdasarian Inc., Mecca, Calif., said the change in the date is good for consumers.

“We have been expecting it for a while now,” he said. “We look forward to it delivering a better quality product to consumers in the U.S. because the minimum standards will have to be met by the Chileans.”

In past years, he said some poor quality grapes from Chile were brought just before the April 20 marketing order date. He said those grapes, sold from storage, weighed on the start of the California desert grape season when harvest and shipments began there — typically the first week in May.

David Holzworth, general counsel for the Santiago, Chile-based Chilean Exporters Association could not be reached for comment on Jan. 20.

In October last year, Holzworth said both Chilean and California interests had been working on solving the issue of the marketing order effective date, which he said at the time had been a point of contention since 1985.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rule moves the regulatory period for southeast California and imported grapes from April 20 through Aug. 15 of each year to April 10 through July 10, according to a news release from the USDA.

The change ensures that imported table grapes marketed in competition with domestic grapes will meet the same quality requirements of expected of California desert grapes, according to the USDA release.

Meanwhile, the change to the ending date of the marketing order matches the current end of the shipping period for the desert growing area, the USDA said.

The news release said the interim final rule also clarifies the maturity (soluble solids) requirements for southeastern California and imported flame seedless variety grapes.

Trade tensions

Tensions between Chile and California over the overlap of the winter grape season and the start of the domestic deal have been around for about two decades, industry sources say.

In 2001, California desert grape growers filed an anti-dumping petition against Chilean grape imports.

In 2005, a proposed rule from the USDA (supported by California desert grape growers) would have moved the date of the marketing order to April 1. That was never adopted, however, and the Chilean industry raised questions of the justification for the change and whether the proposal was a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the U.S.-Chilean Free Trade Agreement.

Chilean growers and exporters have said the April 1 minimum inspection requirement could have resulted in a rejection rate of 20% or more and make the U.S. market too risky.

However, Bozick said that Chilean exporters have sent grapes to the U.S. well after they are required to meet minimum grade standards.