Orchid Farms Lose Import Fight

April 22, 2005 - 11:43

After battling orchid imports for a number of years, one of the most recent attempts from Hawaiian orchid grows has been denied. "The Hawaii Orchid Growers Association, which represents about 150 members, wanted U.S. courts to ban imports of potted phalaenopsis orchids from Taiwan. But the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled against the Hawaii growers late last month," stated a recent article from the Honolulu Advertiser.

There has been a long debate going on that if overseas companies start importing orchids into the U.S., it will become a commodity crop. A New York Times article published August 24, 2005 on the topic of Taiwan become an orchid growing powerhouse stated, "If the Taiwan effort is successful, orchids could lose their image as the high-priced but finicky princes of the floral world and become lesser nobility, almost as inexpensive as poinsettias. The favored flower for debutantes' corsages a generation ago, orchids are already starting to appear in rows of $15 potted specimens at mass merchandisers like Home Depot, and seem poised to become even cheaper." In return to that information, the Honolulu Advertiser stated, "The growers, fearful that Taiwanese imports will jeopardize the state's $24 million orchid industry, have vowed to continue their fight. However, with free trade efforts creating an increasingly global marketplace, they realize they may be fighting a losing battle."

Phalaenopsis orchids, one of the most common types of orchids, represented sales of just $1.7 million of reported orchid sales statewide in 2003, according to the Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service, the article said. With the importation of theorchids from other countries, this could cause a large decline in the sales figures.

Prior to January, of this year, "orchid growers in Taiwan could only export young, bare-root plants to the United States, where they would be potted and grown before being sold as older, more expensive plants. This year the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the rules, allowing Taiwan farmers to export the more mature, pricier potted orchids directly into the United States," stated Honolulu Advertiser.

At this point, there are plenty of pests and disease coming into the United States, but Hawaiian orchid growers are worried that bringing the added plant materials in from Taiwan could transport unknown pests to the United States and cause more danger to existing crops, costing millions of dollars to protect the plants. However, the article states that the USDA claims it has measures in place to protect that from happening. "There are very stringent requirements in place," said USDA spokesman Larry Hawkins in the Honolulu Advertiser. "We believe these sufficiently reduce the risk to Hawaii such that these plants should be allowed to come in."

"We're fighting it on the environmental side of it because I think that's the only way you can appeal it," said Peter Neifert, owner of Olomana Orchids in Waikane, in the article. "But the real reason in a sense is economics. Hopefully, we can be competitive with them, but we're not sure. If you let in phalaenopsis, eventually you'll have other crops [coming in from overseas]."

There have also been a number of other agricultural industries that are having similar problems. "Local macadamia growers, for example, will face greater competition from Australia following the recent signing of a free trade agreement between Washington and Canberra. Papaya growers are already dealing with increased foreign imports," stated the Honolulu Advertiser.

In the long run bringing in the orchids from Taiwan may be cheaper for retailers and consumers but according the cost would come in the form of lost jobs in Hawaii.

"'It would benefit my business in that I would be able to get things cheaper from Taiwan or Thailand and have a better mark-up," said Wendy Lau, the owner of Rainbow Balloons & Flowers, who bought half-a dozen orchids last week from Olomana Orchids, including two phalaenopsis. "But it's still not the same as if you bought something from Hawaii and you sold it as something from Hawaii,'" stated the article.

"It's not dead yet [the fight against the imported orchids]," said Donald Eberly, president for the Hawaii Orchid Growers Association said in the article. "It's on its last legs, but it's not dead."

For more information on the issue visit the Hawaii Orchid Growers Association Web site at www.hawaiiorchidgrowers.org or for more information on the importation of orchids from Taiwan visit www.gpnmag.com and look for the story "Taiwan Causes Competition for Orchid Market" in the news section.

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