The Philippines ramps up Durian exports to China even during heightened territorial disputes

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In a strategic move to bolster its exports to the world’s largest market for durian consumption, the Philippines is making waves at the China International Import Expo. This endeavor takes place against the backdrop of an escalating territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea. The Philippines is keen on promoting its tropical fruits, including the delectable Puyat variety of durian, to the Chinese market.

One significant development during the expo is the purchasing agreement signed by the Dole (Shanghai) Fruits and Vegetables Trading Company with the Philippine embassy in China. “Philippine durian is delicious, sweet – if it’s not sweet, you get your money back,” proudly declared Philippines ambassador to China, Jaime Florcruz, at the ceremony. Despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding this agreement, specific details such as the value and volume of fruit products remain shrouded in mystery. What is clear is that the agreement primarily encompasses two types of Philippine fruit: durians and papayas.

The move to expand durian exports to China is well-timed, as China’s appetite for this tropical fruit has been growing steadily. Dole reports that durian sales in China have seen a compound annual growth rate of over 20 percent since 2019. The value of China’s durian market is soaring, making it an attractive proposition for the Philippines.

China’s doors were opened to fresh Philippine durians for the first time following a state visit by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr to Beijing in early January, resulting in a new agreement between the countries. However, despite the push to boost durian exports, bilateral trade between China and the Philippines fell by 16 percent to US$54.1 billion in the January-September period, according to Chinese customs data. China imported US$14.36 billion worth of Philippine goods in the first nine months of the year, representing a 19 percent decrease from the previous year.

Durians have held the title of China’s top fruit import by value since 2019, with major sources being Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The Philippines is not alone in its quest to capitalize on this lucrative market, as Malaysia has also been eyeing the potential of exporting fresh durians to China. A six-point statement was signed between Malaysian officials and a Chinese customs delegation, paving the way for faster risk assessment of fresh Malaysian durians and cooperation in promoting quarantine inspection work. Malaysia hopes to commence fresh durian exports to China next year, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Presently, only frozen durians are imported from Malaysia.

It is worth noting that nearly all of the durians consumed in China are imported, and the country is projected to consume approximately a million tonnes of this fruit this year. While China has made strides in producing its own durians, the first batch of home-grown durians hit the market in June. However, it is expected to take several years to establish a substantial, sustainable yield of durians domestically. Feng Xuejie, director of the Institute of Tropical Fruit Trees at the Hainan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, pointed out that Hainan is projected to produce only about 50 tonnes (110,000 pounds) of durian in 2023, accounting for just 0.005 percent of all the durians consumed in China this year.

The Philippines’ push to expand durian exports to China is a strategic move to capitalize on China’s growing appetite for this tropical fruit. Despite territorial disputes, both countries are finding common ground through trade agreements, fostering cooperation in the agricultural sector. As China’s demand for durians continues to surge, it presents a valuable opportunity for the Philippines and other countries to tap into this lucrative market.

(Source: Mandy Zuo | SCMP)

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