About This Product

NOTE: This data product is not currently being updated.

Product Overview

Increased trade in fresh fruits and vegetables provides U.S. consumers with a variety of benefits, including the possibility of improved nutrition by making these products available year-round. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) maintains the authority to establish regulations on the fruit and vegetable imports to prevent the inadvertent introduction of harmful organisms and diseases (i.e. pests). As opposed to the Food and Drug Administration sanitary regulations which primarily address human health concerns, APHIS phytosanitary regulations primarily address plant and animal health which is broadly understood to include risks to agricultural productivity, environmental services, and other natural resources.  These regulations may include prohibitions on imports, treatment requirements, restrictions on the origins and destinations of the goods, increased testing requirements, and comprehensive field measures and growing conditions as defined in a “systems approach”.  The World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures establishes a framework for the establishment and application of trade restrictions based on these concerns and a dispute resolution mechanism for violations of that framework.  

This data product provides information on phytosanitary regulations affecting U.S. imports of 42 fresh fruits and vegetable.  From 2008 and 2012, ERS has annually published statistics on the countries are eligible to ship these goods to the U.S. and the extent to which they represent the whole of world trade.  In 2014, the agency revised the format and add additional information on the specific treatment requirements for 29 of the fruits and vegetables permitted into the U.S., the rates at which goods are rejected during inspections (i.e. the risk rate), and the rates at which specific actions are taken during inspections (i.e. the action rate). 

Why This Product Is Important

The SPS Agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) establishes rules by which an importing country can establish sanitary and phytosanitary regulations to prohibit or restrict imports.  In general, the WTO requires the regulations of member-countries to be nondiscriminatory, science-based, and least-trade restrictive and maintains a legal mechanism to resolve disputes among member-countries. For example, the WTO encourages importing countries to only limit trade restrictions to those geographic areas of an exporting country where a pest is present if the exporting country has controlled the pest in that area.  In the United States, APHIS maintains the regulatory authority for safeguarding crops and the environment by eradicating or controlling the spread of invasive pests and--through the inspection and the regulation of imports--preventing their introduction.

Import regulations, however, can be used to inhibit trade unnecessarily, in which cases they are sometimes referred to as “non-tariff barriers.”  For instance, imports may be banned, required to undergo costly treatments, or face uncertain inspections that might regularly prevent their entry.  Because the costs of such technical barriers to entry are opaque, policymakers and trade analysts often lack data showing the magnitude of non-tariff barriers and have difficulty determining whether lack of trade is the result of ordinary market conditions or regulatory barriers, even if these regulations are well justified.

This data product draws on several data sources to establish several quantifiable metrics on phytosanitary regulations’ effect on fruits and vegetables imports. In recent years, new treatment technologies and a streamlined regulatory process have allowed APHIS to permit product importation from more origins. Additionally, the National Agricultural Release Program (NARP) allows certain goods to enter the United States without a pest inspection if the shipment is deemed low risk or has inspections performed before disembarkation, thereby mitigating much of the negative impact of an uncertain inspection outcome.    

Using the pathway (the specific commodity and country combination subject to a regulation) as the unit of analysis, this data product provides a comprehensive view of imports rather than focusing on single-case examples that may or may not be representative of regulations generally.  Using disparate data sources, including inspections outcome data that are not widely available, ERS provides statistics on the number of countries permitted to ship a given commodity, the types of treatments required as a condition of entry, and the outcome of inspections at the border. 


Last updated: Monday, June 15, 2020

For more information, contact: Steven Zahniser