At the time, comments by ATGA CEO Jeff Scott highlighting that Chilean grapes were treated with methyl bromide, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide gasses were reacted to angrily by Chilean industry body Fedefruta, which said the comments were a “cheap excuse” to get Australian consumers to avoid Chilean grapes.
Mr Scott has now said the comments were “blown out of proportion”, and the industry’s campaign was focused on getting Australian consumers to support local growers.
“If we were able to export up to 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes of grapes, we would be very, very happy – so when you compare with Chile exporting 1m tonnes, we are very small and that’s why growers got upset with the potential of Chile coming in, because they could swamp our market,” Mr Scott told Chilean website Fresh Fruit Portal.
“It wouldn’t be a win-win for anybody; Chile would not get a decent price, and the Australian grower would be hurt badly. That’s why everything needs to be put into perspective.
“It certainly wasn’t a negative go at the Chilean table grape industry or anything like that, it was just an awareness campaign that there could be non-Australian grapes in the market – it’s the first time ever `during the Australian grape season` – and if there is, for the Australian public to support Australian growers.”
He explained the importer’s decision to redirect the initial 15-container shipment of Chilean seedless white grapes from the Australian market to Asia was not because of pressure directly from the ATGA.
“In terms of the end result, the growers obviously put a bit of pressure on whoever the perceived importer was, and that importer then made a commercial decision not to bring the grapes into Australia,” he told Fresh Fruit Portal.
Mr Scott said the Australian industry was open to cooperation with Chilean suppliers in Asian markets, in order to promote overall growth of the grape category in the region.
Despite the controversy the redirection of Chile’s shipment caused, the opportunities for Chilean grapes in the Australian market are relatively small.
The initial shipment aimed to send seedless white grapes into Australia at the end of the local white grape season, although good volumes of local red grapes remained on the market.
“The cost of airfreighting the fruit is likely to be more than double that of the fruit itself and by the time you have added in all the other costs of bringing the product to market, you need to be getting around A$45 per carton to make it worthwhile, but we’ve still got Australian green grapes selling for A$22-25 per carton in the market now,” Tuong Luu of Australian grape export specialist Luu Global told Fruitnet.com at the time.
He added the quality of seafreighted fruit might be compromised by methyl bromide treatment, which is known to shorten shelf life.
“If there are no green grapes in the market, it may work, but it’s very high risk,” Mr Luu said.