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EU imposes retaliatory tariffs on US imports

EU imposes retaliatory tariffs on US imports
Photo: European Commission

The European Commission has imposed additional tariffs on a list of US products following the WTO ruling against US subsidies for Boeing. The move, announced on November 9th, includes an additional levy on imports from the US of citrus, dates and walnuts.

Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “We have made clear all along that we want to settle this long-running issue. Regrettably, due to lack of progress with the US, we had no other choice but to impose these countermeasures. The EU is consequently exercising its legal rights under the WTO’s recent decision. We call on the US to agree to both sides dropping existing countermeasures with immediate effect, so we can quickly put this behind us. Removing these tariffs is a win-win for both sides, especially with the pandemic wreaking havoc on our economies. We now have an opportunity to reboot our transatlantic cooperation and work together towards our shared goals.”

The new tariffs came into effect on November 10th.

 

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USDA to strengthen organic rule enforcement

USDA to strengthen organic rule enforcement

 

The deputy administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program (NOP), Dr Jenny Tucker, is to use her address to the sixth annual Organic & Non-GMO Forum this week to focus on strengthening organic rule enforcement and building relationships with various USDA agencies to protect the integrity of the organic brand, reports Organic Produce Network.

“The publishing of the Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule was a significant milestone and represented input from a full range of organic community members, including organic farmers and businesses, advocacy groups, and the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB),” Tucker said. “The final rule will foundationally change the game to protect organic businesses that are playing by the rules. Increased funding means we now have more staff and in-house expertise needed to investigate complaints and actively expand surveillance of higher risk activities.”

“We are also proud of the relationships we have built with the USDA Customs and Border Protection, USDA Office of the Inspector General, and other USDA agencies to expand our enforcement reach. Many hands are acting to protect the organic market!”

“Once finalized, the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule will increase the program’s authority to oversee and enforce the organic standards. The revised regulations are expected to reduce the number of uncertified businesses in the organic supply chain; standardize organic certificates; require the use of import certificates for imported organic products; increase the minimum number of unannounced inspections; increase inspector qualifications; strengthen fraud prevention procedures; and increase data reporting requirements,” she said.

“The final rule will foundationally change the game to protect organic businesses that are playing by the rules. Increased funding means we now have more staff and in-house expertise needed to investigate complaints and actively expand surveillance of higher risk activities.”

Dr Tucker believes the biggest challenge the industry faces is balancing the need for consistency in enforcement with the reality of diverse site-specific conditions around the globe.

“Soil-based farms and greenhouse operations in New England are going to be different from those in California. They are in different environments with different conditions and pressures. They can both be good for the environment, and they are both governed by the same rules under the Organic Foods Production Act,” she said. “Ensuring fair, consistent enforcement across diverse organic control systems will remain the largest challenge for the industry.”  

She will also address the results from the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) 2019 Organic Survey that was released last week and highlighted the continued growth of the organic market.  

“As the number of organic farms and businesses grows, we continue to launch new tools and approaches to oversee and surveil the market – we will continue to go where organic grows. While the organic sector is still a small part of American agriculture, more farmers and consumers choosing the organic option year after year is a strong indicator that people value the choice. All of us in the organic community will continue to protect that choice!” 

 

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US sales of organic produce rise 15% in third quarter

US sales of organic produce rise 15% in third quarter

 

US organic fresh produce sales were up 15% in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, totalling US$2.2 billion, according to a recent report compiled by Organic Produce Network and Category Partners. The Q3 2020 Organic Produce Performance Report details top organic items in dollar sales and volume sales and shows organic fresh produce sales and growth by region.

Bananas continue to lead in terms of volume sales, representing 18% of all organic produce volume. Meanwhile, packaged salads lead the way in terms of value, accounting for 17% of the dollar sales of all organic produce. Organic strawberry sales were also up 27.1%, to $136 million, sales of apples rose by 19.8% to $128 million, and blueberries climbed 17% to $118 million.

 

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US and Chile vie for share of competitive South Korean grape market

US and Chile vie for share of competitive South Korean grape market

With South Korea’s domestic production of grapes falling, the country is relying ever more on imports. This opens up opportunities for the world’s major producers, especially Chile, with whom South Korea signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2004. Despite government efforts to protect the domestic grape industry by imposing higher tariffs, the share of imported grapes continues to rise. Chile, which benefitted from its early FTA access, has the highest market share. However, US grape imports have also been on the rise since South Korea removed its off-season tariffs in 2016.

South Korea’s aging farming population is another contributory factor to the decline in production, but the increased popularity of the Shine Musket variety, which is grown locally, has slowed the fall in domestic grape cultivation. South Korean consumers seek diversity in grape varieties, which has led to the introduction of new varieties every season. They are also willing to pay higher prices for premium products. Indeed, the price of grapes has continued to rise as demand still exceeds supply. The overall grape market in South Korea, which was once stagnant, is now projected to continue growing due to strong consumer demand.

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CGC calls on Madrid and Brussels to work to remove US tariffs

CGC calls on Madrid and Brussels to work to remove US tariffs

 

On July 24, Airbus announced that it was denouncing the aid that was declared illegal by the World Trade Organization (WTO). As confirmed shortly after by the European Commission (EC), the Governments of Spain, France and Germany then agreed with the European aeronautical manufacturer to modify the terms of the repayable credits granted to the firm, in order to reflect market conditions and try to settle the trade dispute with the US and with the company from that country, Boeing. 

The EU-US trade dispute relating to subsidies to US firm Airbus, led to retaliatory measures from the US against European agri-food products. Since October 2019, a 25% tariff has effectively kicked out Spanish citrus (mainly clementines) from the US market, as well as great damage to other Spanish products such as olive oil, wine and cheeses.

Despite the dispute being resolved, the tariffs are still in place, which is why Spain’s Citrus Management Committee (CGC) calls on the Spanish Government and the EC to act to accelerate the reopening and allow resumption of affected agri-food exports, including oranges from September. In a press release, the CGC argues that failure to act quickly will make it difficult for operators to organise the logistics necessary to negotiate new supply programmes to the US.

The EU is in favour of a negotiated solution. However, if there is no agreement, Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan has warned that “the EU will be ready to exercise its rights to impose sanctions.” Hogan was referring to the forthcoming ruling of the WTO, which must promptly determine whether the measures granted by the US to Boeing can be replicated in the EU. CGC president, Inmaculada Sanfeliu, said, “If Europe really wants to end this trade war, an agreement should now be closed. The agri-food sector in general and citrus fruits in particular are the major victims of Europe’s geopolitical decisions.”

Photo: MINCOTUR / Reyes Maroto & Phil Hogan

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Westfalia launches two new co-owned avocado rootstocks from its breeding and selection programme

Westfalia launches two new co-owned avocado rootstocks from its breeding and selection programme

                                                                                                                                                                                         Press release

The protected plant material will soon be commercially available in South Africa and the USA

TZANEEN, South Africa, 3 August 2020 – Following more than two decades of thorough testing as part of its rootstock breeding and screening programme, the Westfalia Fruit Group is excited to be releasing two new avocado rootstocks, co-owned by Westfalia and The South African Avocado Growers’ Association, for commercial sale under the Merensky name.

Trees of these two new avocado rootstocks are being trademarked under the names of Leola™ (Merensky 6) and Zerala™ (Merensky 5). The novel rootstocks yield healthier trees and better-producing orchards under challenging growing conditions than do other industry-standard rootstocks, as confirmed in recent trials. The rootstocks have been released in the USA and South Africa, with commercial roll-out to be expanded as further trials deliver similarly positive results.

For almost 40 years, Westfalia’s R&D division, Westfalia Technological Services, has been researching disease-tolerant clonal rootstocks to develop selections with superior tree health and yields. The Group’s existing avocado rootstocks Latas® (Merensky 1) and Dusa® (Merensky 2), which were successfully developed and tested over two decades, have enjoyed increasing success with the support of loyal licencees, specifically Brokaw Nurseries from Ventura, California, and its affiliates across the Spanish-speaking world. These rootstocks offer high root-rot tolerance and higher yields, with Dusa® also offering some salinity tolerance. To date, Dusa® has been the top seller among clonally propagated rootstocks worldwide. Protected under Plant Breeders’ Rights, it is grown successfully in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Israel, the USA, South America and South Africa. More than 1.5 million Dusa® trees are sold annually in the commercial market.

Now, with the launch of Leola™ and Zerala™, co-owned by Westfalia and the South African Avocado Growers’ Association (SAAGA), growers are presented with higher-yielding rootstocks developed to suit a range of growing conditions around the world. This supports the Group’s reputation as ‘Avocado Experts’ and as a pioneer in the avocado industry, and also enhances Westfalia’s ability to plant sustainable and productive orchards of its own.

The rootstocks were evaluated under a broad range of production conditions in various countries. Demonstrating tolerance to Phytophthora cinnamomi root-rot under heavy infection pressure, Leola™ was shown to outperform Duke 7 – the previous industry-standard rootstock – in initial productivity screening, and even outperformed Dusa® in recent trials. In addition to being selected for its high standard of productivity, Zerala™ is Westfalia’s rootstock of choice for growing in areas facing salinity challenges. Both new rootstocks will continue to undergo large-scale monitored plantings and trials.

South African growers can contact their preferred Avocado Nurserymen’s Association (ANA) accredited nursery directly to enquire about the commercial availability of these rootstocks.

The launch is of great significance to the global avocado industry, making greater yields possible under a range of challenging growing conditions and allowing larger volumes of fruit to be produced and marketed across the globe, to meet growing consumer demand.

 

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Adjustments on the US fresh fruit market

Adjustments on the US fresh fruit market

Sales of fresh produce appear to be levelling off in the US, after seeing a rapid surge in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Overall, fresh produce sales in the week ending June 28th were up 5.8% from 2019 levels, which is markedly down on the growth seen in since April 2020. While vegetable sales were up 12.5%, fruit sales rose just 0.2%, according to IRI data. There is still strong performance in the frozen and processed produce segment, with the former up 15.1% and the latter growing 22% from the same time last year. Fresh produce sales stand at $1.36 billion in the week ending June 28th and account for around 83% of overall fruit and vegetable sales in the US. Canned fruit and vegetable sales amount to $155 million and sales of frozen produce total $124 million. The poor performance of fresh fruit sales is particularly worrying for suppliers of summer fruits such as melon, grape and stone fruit. In contrast, vegetables are performing well, with lettuce leading the way in terms of sales growth, followed by tomato and potato. 

 

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Six-fold rise in US organic blueberry sales in past decade

Record exports of Chilean organic blueberries
© Eurofresh Distribution

 

Sales of organic blueberries in the US have rocketed over the past 10 years, with volumes increasing six-fold, from around 6 million kilos per year in 2010 to over 40 million kilos in 2019. Over the same period, prices have remained relatively stable, which means the market has become an extremely lucrative one. Average prices of organic blueberries tend to be around 50% higher than for conventional blueberries. However, premiums vary between different origins and at different times. According to USDA data, organic blueberries from Argentina and Uruguay cost up to 200% more than conventional berries in 2017, but the premium has diminished somewhat in the past two years. Indeed, the premiums paid for organic blueberries have been falling in most origins in recent times as supplies of organic fruit increase. This means the global blueberry market is becoming an ever-more competitive place with tighter margins. It will be interesting to see how the market is affected by the current Covid-19 pandemic: will consumer demand increase as health concerns play a greater role in driving demand, or will the economic fallout lead to a shift away from premium fruit?

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Coalition files lawsuit to prevent soilless agriculture from receiving organic certification

Coalition files lawsuit to prevent soilless agriculture from receiving organic certification © Réussir Fruits et Légumes

© Réussir Fruits et Légumes

 

The US Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit with a coalition of organic farms and stakeholders challenging the US Department of Agriculture’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic. According to Planetwatch, the lawsuit contends that hydroponic operations violate organic standards because they fail to build healthy soils and asks the court to stop the USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be certified. The US is one of the few countries that will allow hydroponics to be certified organic. Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 European countries all ban hydroponic vegetable production to be labelled organic. 

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the body assigned by Congress to advise the USDA, has repeatedly asked the USDA to ban organic certification of hydroponics. The NOSB recommended in 2010 that hydroponics be prohibited from organic certification. The USDA continues to ignore that recommendation. In January 2019, the Center for Food Safety filed a legal petition asking the USDA to ban hydroponics from organic certification. The USDA denied the request that same year.

The lawsuit claims that denying the petition violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Organic Foods Production Act, which requires farmers to build soil fertility to obtain organic certification. Hydroponic crops are grown without soil using water-based nutrient solutions. Synthetic salts are the most common nutrients used in hydroponics, and most of them are not allowed in products certified organic.

“Healthy soil is the foundation of organic farming,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “Organic farmers and consumers believe that the Organic label means not just growing food in soil, but improving the fertility of that soil. USDA’s loophole for corporate hydroponics to be sold under the Organic label guts the very essence of Organic.”

The basis of organic agriculture is to feed the soil, not the plant. Dave Chapman of Long Wind Farm told Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont: “Organic farming is based on enhancing and cultivating the wonderful balance of the biological systems in the soil. It isn’t just about replacing chemical fertilizers with natural fertilizers.”

One of the objections to hydroponics is that it relies heavily on fertilisers. Oregon Tilth Certified Organic states that hydroponics relies on large volumes of soluble fertilisers with little nutrient cycling. Commercial hydroponic growers will rarely reveal the fertilisers they use, according to the Texas Organic Research Center. Another objection is that hydroponics use chemicals, which organic producers are prohibited from using.

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Sales of organic produce in US surge by 20%

Maggie McNeil, Organic Trade Association - Sales of organic produce in US surge by 20%
Maggie McNeil, Organic Trade Association ©  Twitter

 

Sales of organic produce in the US were up over 20% in spring 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had “dramatic consequences for the organic sector” according to data published by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). The US organic market grew by almost 5% in 2019, reaching US$18bn, with millennials and the younger generations the main drivers of this growth in demand. However, according to Maggie McNeil of the OTA, the outlook is far from clear for the sector. The whole of the US economy has taken a battering from the fallout of the pandemic, which has led to less purchasing power for households. This might translate into more price-conscious consumers who are unwilling to fork out more for more costly organic products. However, the pandemic also appears to have made consumers  more health-conscious. This may lead them to shifting purchases towards more healthy options like organic fresh produce.