Gov. Corbett and senior agricultural officials from Chile gathered at Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia on Tuesday to mark what they say is a growing Chilean and South American fruit trade to Philadelphia.

On a pier behind them, the Bahia Castillo, a refrigerated cargo ship, was unloading fresh Chilean fruit. About 10,000 pounds of the grapes, kiwis, apples, and pears were donated to Philabundance, the hunger relief group, which took the fruit by truck to area food pantries.

A delegation that went with Corbett last month on a trade mission to Chile and Brazil met with Chilean Agricultural Minister Luis Mayol Bouchon and invited him to Philadelphia.

"Historically, the Port of Philadelphia was the principal port for the United States for all exports of fresh fruit from Chile," Mayol said.

About 40 percent of all Chilean agricultural exports to the United States pass through the ports on the Delaware River, and 86 percent of those exports are fruit.

Grapes, apples, pears, cherries, and citrus fruit from Chile are "winter" fruit, and begin arriving here in early December. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile in 2010 slowed fruit shipments, but after the government and people of Chile made repairs, the fruit harvest and shipments have returned to previous volumes.

"Chile is Pennsylvania's largest out-of-country provider of fruit and wine," Corbett said. "This port puts the goods of any importer within a day's drive of almost half the population of our nation."

Philadelphia handles $680 million a year in imports from Chile. "As I told the agricultural minister, we love Chile, and hope to continue to do business with them for a long time," said Charles Kopp, chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

The way fruit is shipped is changing from "break bulk" cargoes loaded individually on pallets to giant containers such as truck trailers.

About 533,000 metric tons of Chilean fruit arrive annually at ports on the Delaware River, said Sean Mahoney, the port authority's marketing director.

The Philadelphia port handles 44 percent of the fruit on the river. The other 56 percent goes to South Jersey and Wilmington ports.

"It's a very, very important trade to the region," Mahoney said. "Other ports, like Miami in South Florida, are looking closely at ways to try to take the cargo out of this area and move it up by train to markets in the Northeast.

"We want very much to grow the fruits and vegetables that are coming in, and hold onto this tremendous opportunity that we have."

Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.