Va. log ban ends

Published 10:04 pm Saturday, June 9, 2012

Suffolk fumigator glad to be preparing logs for China again

A Suffolk business is breathing a sigh of relief this week after seeing its business pick back up following a yearlong embargo on shipping some Virginia products to China.

The Asian country recently agreed to a six-month trial period to begin importing logs from Virginia and South Carolina. China initiated the ban in April 2011 because, it said, insects were found in some shipments.

That was bad news for Royal Fumigation in Suffolk, which treats the logs and other agricultural products with chemicals to kill pests before they are exported.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

“We are very pleased that the ban has been provisionally lifted,” said Anne Bookout, vice president and general counsel for Royal Fumigation. The company has a location on Finney Avenue.

The lifting of the ban came after Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office worked with federal agencies involved in trade negotiations in China, according to a press release from the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Prior to the ban, Virginia was a major East Coast supplier to China, the world’s top log importer.

Bookout said the first shipment to be treated at the Suffolk facility was in the building last week and could be on a ship that sails as early as this week.

It has been a long and difficult process for Royal Fumigation, Bookout said.

The company had to lay off a few employees and move some employees around. Some of the Suffolk employees went to North Carolina locations during the ban, she said.

“It was a very difficult situation,” she said. “We kept hoping that some good news was imminent.”

Even more frustrating was the guesswork involved. How did the shipments get infested? And where they actually infested in the first place?

“We have tried to do trace-back and figure out just where there could be a problem,” Bookout said. “That’s been a frustrating process. I think to this day we’re all scratching our heads. There have been a lot of questions that have never been answered in all of this. How they get infested, or whether they actually did get infested, is anybody’s guess. There could be some sort of other trade dispute at the bottom of it.”

Bookout said China was importing massive amounts of wood up until the ban.

“They were desperate for our wood up to the time of roughly the [2008] Olympics, because their building boom was almost overwhelming,” she said. “That has slackened off, so I suppose they could afford [not to import].”

During the probationary period, companies that handle logs will be required to do extra testing and take extra measures to safeguard the logs from pests.

“I think our probationary period will be nothing more than that,” Bookout said. “I think that to begin with, we had a good system.”

She said the company hopes to return to its pre-ban level of business soon.

“It’s not a system that instantly changes overnight,” she said. “I think the business will come back.”