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A New Problem for Plant Importers

This article recently appeared in the Cactus and Succulent Journal)

Those wishing to import plants from other countries already face hurdles in obtaining necessary permits. First, one must have a long-term US import permit, though that is easily gotten from the US Department of Agriculture: APHIS, 4700 River Road, Unit 136, Riverdale MD 20737-1236.

CITES documents must be obtained from each foreign country for orchids, cycads, succulent euphorbias and all cacti. In addition, if one wants to collect wild plants from habitat for importation into the US one must obtain collecting and export permits from the country of origin. That will rarely be possible, as usually only institutionally supported researchers will qualify.

Another permit that has been required for many years is a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin stating that the plants are pest-free. However, there has been little enforcement of this regulation—it has usually been sufficient when arriving in the US to present an import permit and if necessary, a CITES document. The plant inspectors at borders or airports then usually either inspect and release the plants on the spot or if they are numerous, will mail them later to the importer.

Those days are over. Due to the increasing numbers of plants being imported, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) staff will no longer inspect them after January 22 2002. Plants, cuttings or seeds-whether obtained from nurseries, amateur growers or native habitats—will be confiscated if they are not accompanied by a phytosanitary permit.

One can think of several negative consequences. Many third-world countries do not have the capability of inspecting plants and issuing phytosanitary certificates and those that do will probably have less incentive to find insect pests than our own inspectors—it is therefore likely that there will be an increase in pests entering the US. Smuggling will no doubt increase despite the severe fines ($10,000 at the Los Angeles airport) and of course, successfully smuggled plants are not professionally searched for pests. For those who refrain from smuggling, the time-consuming process of applying for a document in a foreign country will no doubt greatly limit the entry of new plant material into our country. Large commercial growers may have the time and staff to carry out all the paper work needed to import or export foreign shipments, but it is quite a different matter for the amateur grower who simply wants to bring back a few plants or seeds.

This new ruling, dated July 23, 2001—and its supplement extending the effective beginning date to January 22, 2002—are available through the USDA website (www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/webrepor.html) as Dockets No. 00-1I9-1 and 2. They can be viewed as text files but also as pdf files using Adobe Acrobat Reader. MK