Negotiation opens door for Washington cherry exports to Japan

Gov. Chris Gregoire and state Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse announced today that Washington growers can immediately ship their freshly picked cherries to Japan under a new protocol that will reduce transportation costs and preserve the high quality of the fruit.

After several years of research and a pilot program, Japan has agreed to allow an inspections protocol as a substitute for pest treatments previously required for imported cherries. Research has shown that Washington cherries do not pose a risk for transporting codling moth, an orchard insect pest of concern for Japanese growers.

When Japan delayed the implementation of the agreement just before the June start of cherry harvest, Gregoire brought the dispute to the attention of U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging his direct involvement. The governor has had many conversations with senior USDA officials and Japanese authorities in the past two weeks.

After negotiations by federal and state agriculture officials, the cherry industry and Japanese inspectors who traveled to Washington, Japan’s remaining concerns about the use of the protocol have been resolved. The inspections will preserve the high quality of fruit and dramatically cut transportation costs.

“This groundbreaking agreement benefits both Washington cherry growers and Japanese consumers,” Gregoire said. “Japan has been an important market for Washington cherries, and thanks to this new protocol, that trading relationship will continue to be profitable in the years to come.”

Washington is the nation’s leading producer of sweet cherries, with this year’s crop expected to reach nearly 200,000 tons. In 2007, Washington growers produced $327 million in cherries, with a record $29 million in sales to Japan. Growers had seen sales to Japan fall due to the two-week delay caused by the formerly required treatment.

With hundreds of farms participating in the new protocol, thousands of additional boxes of fruit will reach the Japanese market. Because inspected fruit will have a longer shelf life, shippers will now be able to use cargo ships rather than more expensive air freight service.