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There are two issues that come into play in consideration of the possibility of the United States importing South African citrus in 2010, according to Bruce McEvoy, a consultant for Seald Sweet International, based in Vero Beach, FL.

In a Nov. 15 e-mail to The Produce News, Mr. McEvoy said, that there are two separate issues when it comes to addressing the potential for sourcing South African grapefruit for the U.S. market.

The first consideration deals with South Africa's Northern Cape. "On July 27, 2009 [Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service] published its intent to recognize 16 additional magisterial districts in three provinces as pest-free areas in citrus black spot," Mr. McEvoy wrote. "The comment period for this action ended October 13, 2009. There were a limited number of comments, and they are currently under assessment."

This, he said, "would normally take 60 days to review such submissions under a fast-track procedure, but this timeline is also dependent on the complexity of the comments submitted. Access to the U.S. market should certainly be in place before the 2010 season. There is only limited production of grapefruit in the Northern Cape, but areas within the Cape are certainly suited for grapefruit production. That said, this area does have False Codling Moth, and therefore it would be subject to a cold-sterilization treatment, and this we would want to test next season."

The second consideration is Limpopo, Mr. McEvoy wrote. "This area in the north of South Africa has an abundance of high-quality grapefruit -- generally red varieties with an outstanding external blush. APHIS has recently conducted a technical visit to the area, and it appears it is prepared to consider a pest-free production area concept. Because this is a new concept and one that may well be controversial, it will have to go through the rule- making process. It is really not productive to speculate on timelines, but it's unlikely that the market access process will be completed for the 2010 season. This would certainly be the best source of grapefruit for the next few years, and the separation of farming units in Limpopo is a plus for pest control."

Mr. McEvoy said it is too early to discuss grapefruit volumes "since we first need to test shipments against protocols and also test consumer acceptance." For South African grapefruit, he said that Seald Sweet "would certainly conduct trial shipments and test consumer acceptability along with the normal trade exposure and feedback."