Argentina bets on U.S. lemon exports as soured ties turn sweet
By Luc Cohen
BUENOS AIRES Oct 5 (Reuters) - Argentina, the world's top lemon producer, is confident a 15-year ban on exporting the fruit to the United States will be lifted soon as government relations improve despite opposition from U.S. farmers, an Argentine official said on Wednesday.
The United States, the top lemons consumer, is evaluating an end to the ban amid a broader push from center-right President Mauricio Macri to boost agricultural exports after 12 years of isolation and leftist rule in Argentina.
"The sector has made the improvements they asked of us so that we can begin to export," said Guillermo Rossi, vice president of health and safety agency Senasa. He said in an interview that final approval should come before the next harvest in March or April.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a rule to allow imports in May and is reviewing public comments on it, a spokeswoman said. A U.S. delegation visited Argentina in September.
Officially, the U.S. import ban of 2001 has nothing to do with politics. Citrus farmers in California, which produces 90 percent of U.S. lemons, are concerned Argentine lemons carry diseases that could hurt their crops.
But the timing of the proposal to allow imports seemed political, said Joel Nelson, president of trade group California Citrus Mutual, noting that President Barack Obama had visited Argentina to meet with Macri in late March.
"This administration is seemingly rewarding an administration in Argentina for potentially good behavior," Nelson said. "They're using us as a trading chip."
Exports are expected to be modest, and farmers would likely replant trees to grow lemons of the quality expected by U.S. consumers, said Romain Corneille, chief executive of San Miguel , Argentina's top lemon exporter. Continuación...