(March 11) Turning the other cheek and going the extra mile may be the Gospel creed, but Sunkist doesn’t believe it is the right way for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to deal with Japanese plant quarantine officials.

The USDA has not used appropriate leverage in seeking fair rules for citrus shipments to Japan, wrote Kam Quarles of Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., in a March 8 letter to Bill Hawks, agriculture undersecretary of marketing and regulatory services

Quarles, Washington, D.C.-based director of international trade policy and federal affairs for Sunkist, noted in the letter to Hawks that a final rule issued March 2 by the USDA provided Japanese unshu citrus growers enhanced market access and flexibility in fumigating their produce entering the U.S.

NO RECIPROCAL TREATMENT

”Unfortunately, in granting these benefits, the U.S. government has not demanded reciprocal treatment for American growers,” he said.

A spokesman for the USDA said a reply would be given to Sunkist but that the department would not comment publicly on the letter.

Quarles said March 9 that U.S. citrus shipments to Japan are routinely fumigated upon arrival in Japan for pests that are already present in Japan. Fumigation costs for Sunkist alone run more than $1 million a year. About 80% of Sunkist citrus shipments sent to Japan are fumigated.

“The costs are quite significant, both in applying the fumigant to the citrus and also in terms of reducing the (fruit’s) shelf life,” he said.

Meanwhile, Japanese citrus growers have the same pests that warrant fumigation on U.S. citrus in their own groves. Their citrus faces no regulation or fumigation within Japan, he said.

In the letter, Quarles said that despite prodding from Sunkist and others, the USDA has not been able to achieve any reforms to the Japanese requirements.

”Given the importance of this long-standing issue to American growers, we do not understand the U.S. government’s willingness to promptly accommodate Japanese growers’ demands regarding a fumigation issue in an identical commodity,” he said.

NOT ENOUGH

Quarles said in the letter that while Sunkist appreciates the USDA’s procedural effort to produce change in Japan’s plant quarantine policy, the agency should have done more.

“We strongly believe that it would have been appropriate to link U.S. concessions to the Japanese together with international calls for science-based reform of Japanese fumigation policies that harm American growers,” he said in the letter to Hawks.

Quarles said March 9 that the U.S. missed an opportunity for “horse trading.”

“Taking an issue in a vacuum is exactly what the Japanese want us to do; here was great opportunity to apply political pressure and solve a problem,” he said.

“The frustration is that the you have the Japanese coming to the U.S., saying ‘Please give us some relief’ and we say ‘OK, we will give accommodation, we will fix your problem,’ ” he said.

DISSENTING VOTE

Quarles agrees that plant health decisions need to be science-based; he noted that the International Plant Protection Convention of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization voted 64-1 that Japan’s fumigation policy was not justified. Japan itself cast the lone dissenting vote.

While the USDA is working though a process that may eventually bring the issue to a World Trade Organization panel, Quarles said that could take years.

He noted that Spain used political pressure to help gain reentry for their clementine exports to the U.S. in October 2002.

“If the Spanish are capable of leveraging the issue, the U.S. is capable of leveraging the issue,” he said.