(Jan. 29) As California orange growers tally their losses from the killer freeze, shippers in Chile are ready and willing to help alleviate the supply shortfall.

While Chile may increase shipments of stone fruit and grapes to fill the gap in the fruit market created by the freeze-decimated California orange crop, the situation raises the question of the nation’s potential as a supplier of oranges to the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows entry of Chilean clementines and lemons, but the South American nation doesn’t yet provide oranges to the U.S.

Even before the loss of an estimated $1 billion worth of U.S. citrus during the weeklong mid-January freeze, the two nations were discussing opening up the U.S. to Chilean oranges.

Although a sense of urgency is natural in the wake of disaster, all interested parties — the U.S. and Chilean citrus industries, as well as the USDA — should exercise caution in rushing to open the door to Chile’s orange crop.

While the nation has an established track record as a citrus exporter, the introduction of pests is a real — if remote — threat and a legitimate concern to U.S. producers.

The possibility of introducing pests to U.S. groves would make a bad situation worse — with consequences that could be felt for years.

Chile has a long history as a trusted trade partner in the U.S. fruit and vegetable market, but the USDA should temper urgency with caution and an eye toward long-term effects as it makes its decision.