Elliott said that impacts both approved and unapproved markets because at the packinghouse, a processor cannot constantly turn off and turn on 'waxing' over a moving table of citrus. Therefore, two new fungicides that can be legally used to protect domestically marketed fruit are precluded from treatment for fear of violating an export MRL.

Specialty crops like citrus are doing well in the export market, up $2 billion in 2010 from the year before. They are up 12 percent so far in 2011.

This is critical for California agriculture which is the only state in the nation exporting almonds, artichokes, dates, dried plums, figs, garlic, kiwifruit, olives, pistachios, raisins, and walnuts.

California’s agricultural exports have realized tremendous growth. Tabor said California has doubled export sales in the past decade. More than $13 billion worth of California’s agricultural output was export. That is roughly 25 percent of the state’s agricultural output.

Some of the key U.S. foreign markets are Mexico, Japan, Korea and China, which has jumped 45 percent so far this year over the same period as last year.

China is a “huge player” on the global stage. It takes $11 billion a year in U.S. soybeans alone. It has also become a major export player in the Far East.

Tabor said China is establishing its own MRLs and plans to set 5,000 in this coming year as food safety becomes a growing issue not only there, but in China’s export market in the wake of exploding melons and tainted milk. It has also raised fraud issues like Chinese products showing up in Middle East markets labeled as U.S. and Australian products.

Actually, wary consumers in China choose to buy foreign products, which they view as safer. This creates mislabeling problems. The Fruit Industry Association of Guangdong province recently told reporters that most of the country’s “imported” fruit is actually grown in China.

Workshop attendants spent a day and a half working to understand the giant jigsaw puzzle of worldwide MRLs that can even reach specific retailers. Supermarket chains are actually demanding their own set of MRLs for products sold in individual stores.

USDA is working to meet challenge by communicating with emerging markets about the U.S. food safety regulations, said Tabor, in hopes of narrowing the disparity between the U.S. EPA standards and export MRLs.

However, despite herculean efforts by USDA, EPA and other agencies to harmonize worldwide MRLs, workshop attendees were told the MRL issue will only become more complicated.