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ORLANDO, FL -- In late March next year, a new produce conference will be held in McAllen, TX, focusing on the issues and opportunities involved in fresh fruit and vegetable trade between the United States and Mexico.

Titled "America Trades Produce Conference," the three-day event will be sponsored by the Texas Produce Association, which is headquartered in Mission, TX, and the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, which served its constituency from its offices in Nogales, AZ.

Speaking to The Produce News Oct. 18 here at the Produce Marketing Association's convention, TPA President John McClung said that he is "fired up about this new conference." He added that this cooperative effort is a great opportunity to address some very important issues that are specific to trade between the two countries.

In a press release jointly issued by the two associations, FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer said, "Growth in the importation of Mexican produce shows no signs of abating, and in fact we expect to see significantly increased volumes in the years ahead."

Mr. McClung said that the numbers speak for themselves, adding that about 60 percent of the fresh produce volume shipped from south Texas to the rest of the country originates in Mexico. In aggregate, the dollar volume of Mexican produce exported to the United States is in the $5 billion to $6 billion range, he said.

The press release quantified the scope of the transactions, stating that more than 13 billion pounds of produce representing in excess of 334,000 truckloads crossed into the United States from Mexico in the one-year period ending this past August. The release also said that Mexico's agricultural exports worldwide are in excess of $16.8 billion.

Mr. MCclung said that the plan is to make the conference an annual event if the interest is there. "Because it is a first-time event, we really have no idea how many people will attend," he said. "We could have 50 or we could have 5,000."

Mr. McClung believes that growers, shippers and exporters from south of the border as well as importers, wholesalers and retailers from the United States will find the conference beneficial.

The specific conference topics have not yet been developed, he said, but practical considerations involved in cross-border trading, such as phytosanitary issues, traceability and food safety, will no doubt be in the mix.

In developing this conference concept, the two associations have reached out to others in the industry such as the PMA, the United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers Association, the Dispute Resolution Corp. and the major grower and exporter associations in Mexico, including CAADES (the grower-shipper association in the state of Sinaloa) and AMPHAC (the greenhouse grower group in Mexico).

"The Arizona and Texas associations recognize that each of these groups has experience, knowledge and capabilities that we don't have," Mr. Jungmeyer said in the press release. "We have asked them to help us organize the most meaningful, practical regional conference possible. We believe that by working together, we will be able to provide the industry with solid, long- term, take-home value."

The establishment of the conference was announced Oct. 16 at a press conference during the PMA convention. Mr. McClung said afterward that the members of each organization should not read anything more into this.

"The two associations are not merging," he said.

The conference will be held from March 30 to April 1, most likely at the McAllen Convention Center in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.