(Sept. 12) After the endless parade of trade deals that seem to let in more competition against U.S. produce interests than create foreign opportunities, produce exporters won a round.

Japan conceded that the World Trade Organization and the U.S. are right about fire blight, and it finally agreed to end its prohibitive apple orchard inspection rules that killed U.S. exports for the past five years.

Exporters hope they can ship this fall’s crop as they wait for the protocol to be finalized.

The real point to watch with Japanese consumers will be their variety preference. When it opened to U.S. apples in 1995, Japan allowed in only the once-great red and golden delicious.

While the Japanese are considered to prefer their own varieties, many have never had the chance to taste a Washington fuji or California gala.

Along those lines, South African and Australian consumers likely haven’t tasted those American-grown varieties, either.

Both nations have been closed to U.S. apples on phytosanitary grounds, meanwhile enjoying a healthy U.S. market for their citrus and other commodities.

The U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement went into effect Jan. 1, though it’s facilitated largely one-way trade on fruits and vegetables.

The Bush administration has made free trade a major priority in its second term, but for it to retain its credibility on trade with the produce industry, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office will have to continue to make the kind of effort with other nations that it has put forth in dealing with Japan.