Ending a 90-year ban on apple exports to Australia has taken a step forward with a biosecurity report across the Tasman saying imports should be allowed.
Australia imposed restrictions in 1921 to protect apple trees from the fire blight pest.
Late last year, the World Trade Organisation said the restrictions were unscientific and broke international rules, and in February, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the country would implement the WTO rulings.
The Biosecurity Australia draft report this week said apple imports from New Zealand should be permitted subject to a range of quarantine conditions.
Pipfruit NZ chief executive Peter Beaven said: "It's probably a sense of relief as much as anything that at last we've got what looks to be a scientific-based analysis."
Pipfruit NZ had not finished reading the report and some clauses needed clarification but Beaven said there was nothing that rang any alarm bells.
The report said that when taking into account New Zealand's standard commercial practices for export grade fruit, there was appropriate protection from three pests - fire blight, European canker and apple leaf curling midge.
"Therefore, no additional quarantine measures are recommended, though New Zealand will need to ensure that the standard commercial practices detailed in this review are met for export consignments."
Pipfruit NZ said it would work closely with government officials and the scientific community to examine the document and make a submission during a 60-day consultation period.
Beaven said there could be some small opportunity for trade towards the end of the year.
"But on the basis of this analysis I'm confident now that we'll certainly be able to commence trade by next year."
The Australian market could grow to 500,000 cases and was worth potentially $30 million a year, he said.
"I think we'll get there relatively quickly, there's a lot of transtasman trade and a lot of people in the fruit industry have got existing relationships because of avocado and kiwifruit trade and so forth."
China had recently gained access to Australia and made the first apple imports to the country in about 90 years, Beaven said.
Australia's per capita consumption was less than half that of New Zealand and the industry here could offer a complementary variety mix, he said.
"We've always said that we don't believe that we pose a threat to the Australian industry, although it's been very hard to convince them of that of course," he said.
"I think it might take a little time but we're definitely holding out the olive branch and offering to jointly promote."
Snow Hardy, general manager at fruit marketing company ENZA, said Australia was a fantastic opportunity.
"Australia's a lot closer than our traditional export markets and it's a much bigger population base to sell our fruit into," Hardy said.
"So it's going to become a key market for us going forward I believe," he said.
"The traditional markets with the US, euro and sterling currencies, they're very unfavourable for us at the moment whereas Australia it's very favourable."
However, the industry had to exercise discipline in the first year or two to make sure it got the market set up and working in a way that enhanced rather than eroded returns to growers, he said.
GETTING THE PIP
* Australian apple import ban has lasted about 90 years.
* World Trade Organisation has ruled against the restrictions.
* Australia has committed to implement the WTO ruling.
* Draft biosecurity report says imports should be allowed.