Under apparent guidance from the Trump Administration, the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a 60-day stay against import of fresh lemons from Argentina into the United States.
This puts on hold a final rule issued Dec. 23 by APHIS that would have allowed Argentine lemons into the United States.
The initial move was criticized by California citrus officials. California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen said at the time that while growers were concerned of the "cheaper" fruit coming into the U.S. market, a chief concern was the potential introduction of invasive pests.
"While CCM does not oppose trade or the inevitable competition created for our industry by the importation of offshore product, we cannot support any trade deal that will place the California citrus industry at risk," said Nelsen in a prepared statement. "To this end, we will continue to work with the USDA to create a work plan that better protects the domestic citrus industry from the multitude of pests and diseases known to be present in northwest Argentina."
The bacteria responsible for Huanglongbing (HLB), a disease that has devastated citrus industries around the world including Florida, has been present in Argentine since 2012 and potentially threatens 336,056 acres of citrus crops in the Northwestern and Northeastern regions of the country.
The U.S. citrus industry and the USDA have invested well over a billion dollars in the past decade to protect the U.S. citrus crop against HLB and the insect vector Asian citrus psyllid.
As growers, government, and homeowners work to prevent further spread of HLB in or outside of the Los Angeles Basin, Argentine lemons could bring similar destructive pests and diseases into California including Citrus Black Spot and Leprosis, a virus similar to HLB that has no cure and is be transmitted by mites.
"The President campaigned on a platform of protecting American industries from trade packages that create unnecessary vulnerabilities for domestic production, business, and jobs," Nelsen continued. "The President’s swift action in regard to the Argentine lemon rule is a clear signal that he intends to keep his campaign promise."
Nelsen continued: "While CCM may disagree with the President’s position on other trade negotiations from the perspective that deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have benefitted citrus producers, we support the Administration’s efforts to protect domestic industries."