Lifting of import ban on lemons angers California farmers

California citrus farmers yesterday slammed the Trump administration for lifting a 16-year import ban on fresh lemons from a key growing region of Argentina.

The action is seen as a letdown by an "America First" president who had vowed to protect the interests of US citizens.

"The administration blindsided us," said Joel Nelsen, a farmer and president of the California Citrus Mutual, a citrus producers trade group, Associated Press reported.

According to the US industry, letting the Argentine fruit in will bring added risk of citrus diseases and pests that could hit domestic crop. The issue also irritated domestic growers as the South American country produced the world's largest crop and was a global competitor in markets like Asia.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had announced on Monday that it would allow imports effective 26 May from four Argentine provinces, located in the country's top-producing northwest region. The development followed a meeting last week between president Donald Trump and Argentine president Mauricio Macri at the White House.

California accounts for over 90 per cent of the US lemon production while the remainder is produced mostly in Arizona.

The Trump administration's action had angered citrus executives who said the import ban could ultimately hurt thousands of US family farmers growing the fruit.

California exports around 10 to 15 per cent of its lemon crop overseas, mostly to Japan, China and South Korea and in recent years had aggressively priced its fruit in certain international markets to compete against the US.

"If you take a look at what the president said on behalf of Wisconsin dairy farmers last week," Nelsen said, CNBC reported. "He's always spoken about the need to protect each and every business sector in trade agreements and protect jobs. This [Argentine action] is a double standard."