State and federal agencies are working to finalize a pilot program to bring grapes and blueberries from Peru and Uruguay into Port Everglades and PortMiami beginning in October 2013. The permit to proceed is expected to be approved this month.
Currently, due to decades-old regulations, grapes, blueberries and other perishables are first brought into the United States through North Atlantic seaports that have cooler climates.
If the pilot program is proven successful, fruit could be shipped directly to South Florida and delivered to local grocery stores faster and at a lower cost. Additionally, if successful, the program could be expanded to include other cold-treated perishables from these and other countries.
“Our ambition is to have this pilot become a success so it can be expanded to other countries and other commodities,” international trade attorney Lee Sandler of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, PA, told attendees at a recent meeting between regulatory agencies, importers, growers, shippers and terminal operators at Port Everglades. S
andler spoke on behalf of the Florida Perishables Trade Coalition, a non-profit association that focuses the collective experience and efforts of trade, transportation and port leaders from throughout the state to increase trade in perishable products through Florida's airports and seaports.
Sandler, with input from inspectors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Customs & Border Protection, described the steps needed to ensure the program’s success. The key component is protecting Florida’s citrus industry from destructive fruit flies.
Some of the measures to prevent fruit-fly infestation during the pilot program include:
• Completing the cold-treatment process before the ship arrives in port
• Packing produce in clean, residue-free marine containers
• Employing a protocol to ensure that probes and sensors for checking produce are in good working condition and approved by the county of exportation
• Transferring records electronically
• Checking seals and tailgate inspections before the container is released
Sandler cautioned that the pilot is part of a “long-haul process” and a “critical step” towards expanding trade in perishables through Florida’s seaports.