Interview: California avocado trade group sees opportunity, competition in China market

Source: Xinhua| 2020-05-31 02:00:13|Editor: huaxia

by Julia Pierrepont III

LOS ANGELES, May 30 (Xinhua) -- "We are so pleased the long process has been finalized," Ken Melban, vice president of Industry Affairs for the California Avocado Commission, told Xinhua after the state's Hass avocado was approved for export to China.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced last week that several more U.S. agricultural products had been approved to be exported to China as part of the U.S.-China phase-one economic and trade agreement.

The list included California's premium Hass avocado, as well as tasty blueberry, barley for malt processing and feed, alfalfa hay, Timothy hay, and almond products.

California avocado growers are elated with the news. Melban said his trade group has been working to promote productivity, new market opportunities and initiatives for their growers, as well develop the branding of Haas avocado as the premium avocado product in the global marketplace since 1978.

"We are looking forward to bringing our premium California avocados to China, probably first to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou," he said in an exclusive interview to Xinhua on Wednesday.

Melban said the procedures, protocols and products being traded between the United States and China are first hammered out between governments before farmers and distributors can get into act.

"With all the safety protocols, inspections, and pest control measures both countries require, it can take years to be approved," he said, revealing that the process for exporting their premium avocados began way back in 2005 under the administration of George W. Bush.

His big lament is that the remaining trade war tariffs for their products may be as high as 60 percent - a crippling sum for a new product coming into a competitive foreign market.

"We work for a great commodity and are very proud of the growers we serve," Melban told Xinhua. "They've had to weather a lot of challenges to get to this point to enable them to provide high quality, healthy premium products worldwide at a reasonable price."

Having seen how well other quality California products have fared in China, some sources are predicting China could be a 10-billion-U.S.-dollar market for avocados. Melban is taking a more cautious, wait-and-see view.

"We think it will be an excellent market, but until you actually get in there, you can't know," he told Xinhua, pointing out that while the door is now open, no avocados have been shipped to China yet.

"But the more options you have the better positioned you are for the future."

He was quick to point out that while avocados from other countries have been imported to China for years, California superior avocados would soon achieve their rightful place in that market.

"We don't compete with Mexican or Peruvian avocados. They compete with quantity, but we compete with quality and nobody can top California's premium Haas avocados."

Regarding price points, he explained that while other fruits like strawberry take only 6 weeks from blossom to harvest-ready fruit, premium Haas avocados take 14 to 18 months to mature.

"The long growing cycle is a challenge, but also a strength," he explained. It is one of the key factors that has allowed California avocado farmers to avoid the devastating, wasted harvests that potato and dairy farmers have suffered during the COVID-19 crisis when shuttered fast-food chains and restaurants didn't buy their crops as usual.

"Our growers can watch the market and delay harvest a few months, if needed, so they can weather this crisis better than most other growers can," Melban added. Enditem