Hawaii growers of exotic fruits deserve a fair market
The Bush administration has proposed a rule that would allow isle farmers to ship exotic fruit to the mainland.
AFTER an eight-year campaign, Hawaii farmers finally are on the verge of gaining approval to market exotic fruit on the mainland in competition with similar fruit from Thailand. Hawaii growers still may be at a disadvantage and need further action to achieve fairness in the marketplace.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture published a proposed rule in the Federal Register a week ago that will allow Hawaii farmers to ship mangosteen, dragon fruit, melon, pods of cowpea, breadfruit, jackfruit and fresh moringa pods as long as they undergo radiation to remove possible pests. The government will receive comments on the rule change until Jan. 14 and could implement it in February.
Tropical fruit sales have become a significant part of Hawaii agriculture, growing from $1.76 million to $2.61 million from 2002 to 2006. The sales are especially encouraging since the mainland market has been out of bounds.
The government began allowing Thailand to export pineapple, longan, mango, mangosteen and rambutan to the United States early this year. Regulators said they were required to expedite the action under terms of the International Plant Protection Convention.
Mangosteens, thick-skinned fruits about the size of tangerines and grown on trees, also are imported from Central America. They retail for more than $16 a pound in New York City, while Hawaii farmers receive about $6 a pound wholesale in local markets, according to Big Island tropical fruit farmer Bob Hamilton.
Thai farmers will remain at some advantage because of cheap labor, Thai government subsidies and favorable trade and tariff treatment by the United States. The plus for Hawaii growers is that air freight costs from Thailand are about five times that of shipping to the mainland from Hawaii.
However, Lyle Wong, a plant quarantine administrator for the state Department of Agriculture, said foreign growers will maintain an advantage because Hawaii's quarantine review process is likely to take much longer than the year or two taken for approval of importers. He said Hawaii citrus and guava growers still await federal approval of applications filed nearly a decade ago.
The proposed rule, affecting Hawaii shipments to the mainland, does not address concerns that Thai fruits entering Hawaii could bring new species of pests, disease and bacteria into Hawaiian tropical fruit. Thailand employs one type of radiation for all of its products, while Hawaii farmers use a variety of irradiation tailored to the type of fruit being treated.