THE first consignment of America's Washington apples to China was held up for almost six months by the Mediterranean fruit fly, it was revealed yesterday.
Chinese quarantine officials insisted that all Washington orchards be tested for the pest before their produce was allowed into China, Washington Apple Commission officials said in Beijing.
This is in spite of the fact that the fruit fly is a tropical insect not found in the state's temperate climes and that untested Washington apples imported from Hong Kong can already be bought in Beijing.
Washington apple growers had to install traps containing a fruit fly sex attractant in every square kilometre of orchard to prove to the Chinese authorities there were no fruit flies in the neighbourhood.
After no flies were discovered, China finally relented and the first box of Washington apples, signed by President Bill Clinton and Agricultural Secretary Mike Espy, arrived in Beijing this week.
Officials from the commission said they hoped to export about 500,000 boxes, each weighing 20 kilograms, to China this year, although the fruit fly traps would have to remain in place to ensure any rogue insects do not visit the farm.
With each apple retailing at about HK$20, the officials admitted their market would be largely restricted to China's growing urban middle class, who were more concerned with quality than price.