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Vilsack says U.S.-China talks show progress in gaining market access for apples, California citrus

WASHINGTON — Progress is being made in negotiations to reopen China's market for Washington apples and California citrus, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said after high-level talks wrapped up between U.S. and China in Beijing.

Vilsack reported progress on trade issues from the 24th U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce & Trade, which was co-chaired by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman with China's Vice Premier Wang Yang.

"My discussions with Premier Li Keqiang and other Chinese leaders laid the groundwork for future cooperation related to our shared interests in food security, food safety and sustainability, as well as the expansion of export opportunities for American farmers and ranchers," Vilsack said.

China became the largest agricultural export market for the United States in 2010, when U.S. exports to China exceeded $17 billion, more than eight times the level in 2002. And while one in four U.S. apples is exported, U.S. apples are not being sent to China after the country expressed concern U.S. agricultural diseases may affect its orchards. At the same time, China is trying to get a foothold on the apple market in the United States through the trade deal.

In addition, shipments of California citrus were blocked earlier this year after brown rot was found on some shipments.

The U.S.-China talks focused on a wide range of agricultural issues such as market access for beef and horticultural products. Vilsack said he re-affirmed a pathway for re-opening China's market for Washington apples and California citrus.

Renewed and perhaps even expanded market access for U.S. apples is a major policy priority for the Washington Apple Commission, and the Northwest Horticultural Council reported last month that negotiations between U.S. Department of Agriculture and its counterpart in China showed progress toward establishing a technical framework to open up the apple market between the two trading partners.

More progress is expected next year. At the Beijing meeting, the two countries committed to holding a second High Level Agricultural Symposium in 2014, with support from the U.S.-China Agriculture & Food Partnership.