VIETNAM remains closed to Australian fresh fruit over concerns of Mediterranean fruit fly, with no resolution on the horizon.

The Vietnamese government stopped issuing import permits for fresh Australian fruit from January 1 this year and has sought advice regarding Australia’s management of Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly).

According to the Australian Horticultural Exporters Association (AHEA), the Australian horticulture industry stands to lose more than $40 million per annum with the ban affecting some 41 commodities.

Australian officials in the region are reportedly meeting as often as possible with Vietnamese counterparts to minimise trade disruptions and open trade opportunities again.

The Department of Agriculture says it is holding regular discussions with industry peak bodies.

Vietnamese relationship valuedAustralian officials are seeking recognition by Vietnam that Medfly is contained to Western Australia and that industries there have systems and treatments within orchards and packing sheds to ensure that the insects are not exported along with fresh fruit.

A Department spokesperson told Good Fruit and Vegetables it has provided Vietnam with 23 detailed technical market access submissions encompassing 41 fresh fruit commodities including table grapes, cherries, citrus and summerfruit to protect existing trade.

“The technical submissions address items such as pest control and orchard hygiene. In addition, the department has made a number of additional written representations regarding the status of Mediterranean fruit fly in Australia since November when Vietnam raised its specific concerns,” the spokesperson said.

The Department said it valued its trade relationship with Vietnam very highly and is committed to providing Vietnam with products that meet their importing country requirements.

The AHEA reported Australia is experiencing market failure for many horticultural commodities this season.

It listed cherries, stonefruit, mangoes and – as a result of the Vietnam closure – table grapes, as crops battling an oversupplied domestic market.

AHEA executive director Michelle Christoe said given the Australian and Vietnamese governments have both been in negotiations since November 2014, a resolution to current problems could be a long time coming.

“Vietnam want access for some of its produce, lychees, mangoes and dragonfruit,” Ms Christoe said.

“The ban in Vietnam should never have happened. Australia was put on notice of the potential ban and it should have been more proactive to bring it to resolve.

“Only time will tell whether the ban will have the same long lasting impact that similar bans from Taiwan and Thailand have had in recent years, and the time it will take to get back into those markets.”

Ms Christoe said Australia needs a senior ministerial approach to resolve the situation.

“The industry needs resolution on key market access issues that will make a difference to the survival of horticulture in Australia,” she said.

“The system needs urgent review to prioritise activities that will make a significant difference.”

WA growers call for better controlsThe ban has fuelled some Western Australian stonefruit growers to call for better Medfly control measures from the WA Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA).

Hills Orchard Improvement Group (HOIG) members said fruit growers were “suffering the consequences of lack of action” to control Medfly.

In a statement HOIG claimed members were concerned “other long-standing, traditional export destinations may follow the lead of Vietnam”.

HOIG has previously called on DAFWA to implement area-wide Medfly management systems, similar to those in the Eastern States, which involve all landowners in an area being part of a monitoring, trapping, baiting and property hygiene program – usually in conjunction with a release of sterile male flies to mate with any female flies.

HOIG spokesman Brett DelSimone said the Vietnamese government’s decision to stop issuing fresh fruit import permits to Australia was “a concerning escalation of the consequences that industry is suffering due to DAFWA inactivity in developing area-wide management”.

“Departmental staff have travelled the world for decades, at taxpayer expense, studying area-wide management and are yet to implement more than a few trials across affected production areas,” Mr DelSimone said.

“The last thing we need is further obstacles to export access into new and traditional markets.

“This has come about due to years of neglect by DAFWA, which has custody of Medfly control.

“The blame lays squarely at the feet of this department.”

DAFWA director of plant biosecurity John Van Schagen said the impact of the Vietnam ban will predominately be felt in the Eastern States that are free from this pest and have systems in place to maintain that freedom.

He confirmed that in WA, only the Ord growing region in the north was free from Medfly, but he rejected the claims DAFWA’s lack of action on area-wide management systems was to blame.

“As with other established pests or weeds, it is up to growers to manage these pests on their property,” Mr Van Schagen said.

“Many growers are working hard on control and DAFWA continues to work with and provide advice to growers about control options, which include baiting, mass trapping, monitoring, orchard hygiene and permitted cover sprays.

“An area-wide management or community-wide approach to fruit fly control uses a range of methods in a co-ordinated way over an area as small as two adjacent orchards, to entire towns and growing areas.”

APAL Industry Services Manager Annie Farrow said she is eager to see the Department of Agriculture work with the Vietnamese government and achieve access to the market again.

“Whilst our export volumes to Vietnam have been small in the past, it is an important and expanding market to a number of growers,” Ms Farrow said.

“In 2013 we exported 82 tonnes of pears to Vietnam, up on the 64 tonnes of the previous year. And, for the first nine months of 2014 pear shipments had increased to 106 tonnes.

“The market for apples is more competitive and Australia has not yet found its niche in Vietnam. Shipments of apples are down, with only 27 tonnes shipped in 2013, compared with 39 tonnes in 2012.”

More give, less take: AHEAAustralia may need serve up more “give” and less “take” if it’s to smooth over Vietnam’s ban on fruit imports.

“If Australia wants re-entry into Vietnam, it needs to fast track the approval process of the import applications,” Ms Christoe said.

“Australia has dragged its feet in the science of import risk assessments. We have been reviewing lychees since 2003.

“Whilst Australia is concerned about biosecurity, the issue here is not a pest concern.

“It is a lack of resource and priority on the issues to bring it to conclusion. The process is not working.

“Meanwhile other importers are filling the void, and the industry has new competition in markets that were traditionally exclusively for Australia.”

The situation has prompted AHEA to propose solutions, make submissions to government and call for more commercial mindedness from the government, whilst also recognising it needs to assist the government in achieving commercially viable agreements.

Although Ms Christoe commended the government in achieving recent free trade agreements with Korea, Japan and China, she said if Australia cannot get access for its commodities, it can’t take advantage of them.

“The way the department is engaging with the export industry is not working,” she said.

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