The holiday season got off to a rough start for apple growers this week with news that Taiwan, the United States' third-largest export market, had banned their crop. Taiwan imposed the ban...

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YAKIMA — The holiday season got off to a rough start for apple growers this week with news that Taiwan, the United States’ third-largest export market, had banned their crop.

Taiwan imposed the ban Tuesday after finding a codling moth larva in a shipment of apples from Oregon, the third time this year. Codling moths had been detected earlier in two shipments from Washington and California.

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Under the terms of a trade agreement, a third incident of codling moths is grounds for closing the Taiwanese border to U.S. apples. The United States and Taiwan reached that agreement after Taiwan banned the import of U.S. apples for more than a month in late 2002, when similar larvae were found.

The ban was especially unwelcome news for growers anticipating February’s Chinese New Year in Taiwan, the biggest selling season for U.S. apples.

More than half of all apples for sale in Taiwan are imported from the United States. Consumers there are particularly taken with Fuji apples from Washington state.

“Obviously, we want to get this market opened as soon as possible,” said Mark Powers of the Northwest Horticultural Council, a trade group. “This is normally a very important marketing season for Washington state apples, and product needs to be on the water starting the week after Christmas through the first two weeks of January.

“It would be difficult, given the complexities of the negotiations, to see that lifted in time,” he said.

Washington produces about half of all U.S. apples. Apples are the state’s most valuable agricultural commodity, worth about $1.15 billion a year.

Taiwan is the state’s third-largest export market, behind Mexico and Canada. Growers already had shipped 1.5 million boxes to Taiwan this season, an increase of 106 percent from the same period a year ago.

Part of the reason for the increased shipments stemmed from anticipation of a possible third case of codling moths. Smart shippers wanted to get apples into the country before the ban, Powers said.

Still, that number is close to the volumes that were sent for the entire season in 2002 and 2003, he said. A typical shipping season runs from September through August.

“Shipments are at very healthy levels, but there is also a bigger crop this year,” he said. “So potentially there could be another million boxes that could go if there wasn’t a market closure.”

Rebecca Baerveldt of the Washington Apple Commission said it would be hard to predict what the losses might be.

Last year, Washington state shipped about 2 million boxes to Taiwan, worth about $30 million.

“This year, we think we might have been able to double our sales into Taiwan, so you could say we might even lose as much as $30 million into Taiwan,” said Baerveldt, the commission’s deputy export director. “Now we have to try to find some other markets to make up for that.”

Powers said it was unlikely that new markets could be developed in the short term. In the long term, the United States must focus on ensuring that Taiwan does not impose even tougher penalties, Powers said.

Other countries turn away shipments of U.S. apples where codling moths are detected but do not impose a cropwide ban, he said.

Taiwanese officials have said the ban will last until inspectors are assured that the United States has strengthened procedures at orchards and packing sites to prevent codling moth larvae from infesting the apples.