| BUENOS AIRES
BUENOS AIRES Oct 5 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
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.
U.S. approval could help Argentina gain access to other
markets such as China, said Jose Carbonell, the head of the
citrus federation, noting that Argentina complies with the
European Union's tough requirements.
Output from Argentina's vast pampas farm belt that supplies
the world with grains and beef fell under former President
Cristina Fernandez as she restricted exports to contain
Her policies depleted Argentina's foreign currency reserves,
and more exports of fresh lemons and other crops could help
build stocks from the current $32 billion.
Macri's government also removed export taxes on wheat and
corn and lowered them for soybeans in an effort to boost
shipments since taking over in December, and hopes the U.S. will
also lift restrictions on Argentine beef imports.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Grant