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Citing the destruction of infrastructure in Chile as a result of the massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake on Feb. 27, a coalition of Delaware River port operators has petitioned U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for a suspension of the April 10 date that regulates the importation of Chilean grapes by the United States. Members of the Desert Grape Growers League of California, however, are opposed to such a move.

According to a March 9 press release from the Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, a petition signed by representatives of the Philadelphia, Gloucester City, NJ, and Wilmington, DE, ports "asks for a 10- to 20-day suspension from April 10 through April 30 of Table Grape Import Regulation 4, which annually limits the import of Chilean grapes after April 10."

Under the regulation, grapes shipped to the United States from Chile after April 10 are subject to strict quality inspections.

Mike Bozick, president of the Desert Grape Growers League of California, which is based in the Coachella Valley, told The Produce News March 9 that the league's membership does not see a need for an exception to the marketing order.

"We are not trying to eliminate the importation of Chilean fruit," said Mr. Bozick. "The only thing we want is to have it inspected for the marketing order. We are not saying ,'You can't bring it in.'"

According to the press release issued by the chamber, "The earthquake caused widespread and catastrophic damage to the Chilean port facilities and transportation infrastructure needed to transport the grape harvest, with the most severe damage in areas suffered by small growers and harvest workers who depend on the fruit harvest and its sale in the United States. Given the disruption in the Chilean harvest and shipments, Chile will lose the ability to distribute its crop - the voyage from Chile to the United States takes 10 to 14 days - without the temporary suspension of the import regulations. The Chilean industry estimates that 10 to 20 days of its harvest season will be delayed or lost."

Mr. Bozick said, "We are not trying to prevent them from bringing anything in. After April 10, it has to be inspected to prevent a dump on the market."