(Sept. 24) The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to permit Spain to resume exports of clementines to the U.S. has sparked fear — and anger — throughout the domestic citrus industry.

Rightly so.

For example, the USDA’s proposed rule would allow live Medfly larvae in 1.5% of the fruit destined for export to the U.S. before cold treatment. Many U.S. trading partners, on the other hand, insist that either groves be sprayed or shipments halted if only a single pest is found.

Spanish shippers would be required to start trapping for Medflies six weeks before harvest under the USDA proposal. China, Japan, Australia and other U.S. trading partners require that U.S. shippers trap for pests year-round.

Other concerns about the proposal abound, including what many in the U.S. produce industry consider inadequate USDA oversight in Spain, the failure to cut a sufficient amount of the Spanish fruit once it reaches domestic ports and the failure to require methyl bromide fumigation, a sure way to eliminate the dreaded Medfly.

And why does the U.S. require Chilean producers to ship from areas free of fruit flies while seeking such relatively lax rules for producers in Spain?

Clearly, politics plays a role.

So, too, does the U.S. role as the world’s leading advocate of free trade. While that’s an admirable goal, free trade, if it is to work, also must be fair.

Holding Spain to a lesser standard than what’s accepted by other nations spanning the globe fails in that regard.

And endangering the U.S. citrus industry — a Medfly infestation could devastate the industry and other sectors of the produce business — for political purposes simply isn’t right.