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An agreement recently reached between Japan and Washington state eliminates delays associated with fumigating fresh cherries and should boost exports of the fruit to that Pacific Rim nation.

A press release issued earlier this month by the office of Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire stated, "After several years of research and a pilot program, Japan has agreed to allow an inspections protocol as a substitute for pest treatments previously required for imported cherries. Research has shown that Washington cherries do not pose a risk for transporting codling moth, an orchard insect pest of concern for Japanese growers."

The previous policy delayed cherry shipments up to two weeks.

The new protocol also is expected to reduce transportation costs by allowing shippers to take advantage of cargo ships rather than air freight. Additionally, fruit quality will be high and have a longer shelf life.

The new protocol is expected to boost overall cherry sales to Japan, which have fallen during the past two years because of the pest-treatment requirement.

Japan sought to delay implementation of the agreement as the June cherry harvest was ramping up in Washington. Gov. Gregoire successfully pressed for intercession on the part of federal agriculture negotiators, who worked with state officials to address Japan's lingering concerns.

"I commend [U.S. Department of Agriculture] Secretary [Tom] Vilsack and his team of tenacious negotiators," Gov. Gregoire said. "This groundbreaking agreement benefits both Washington cherry growers and Japanese consumers. Japan has been an important market for Washington cherries, and thanks to this new protocol, that trading relationship will continue to be profitable in the years to come."

The 2009 cherry crop is one for the record books. Last week, the Washington State Fruit Commission anticipated the state would ship approximately 20 million boxes of cherries, outpacing the 2007 record crop year which produced 14.9 million boxes.

During the 2007 record crop year, Washington produced $325 million worth of cherries. Japan accounted for $29 million of these sales.