China taking over Russia’s role as a major market for Polish produce

In 2014, the embargo imposed by Russia on EU exports was like an earthquake for Polish fruit and vegetable exporters. Fruit sales abroad fell by about 12 percent, and the situation was even worse in 2015, as vegetables also recorded losses.

It turns out, however, that Polish exports have started to grow again, and apples, whose demand had dropped significantly, are beginning to gain new buyers in the Chinese market, and soon maybe in Dubai.

Poland is a huge producer of apples and mushrooms and a big exporter of cabbage, carrots and onions. Throughout 2014, Poland exported 1,338 thousand tonnes of fruit and 741 thousand tonnes of vegetables. That's a total of 2,079 thousand tonnes for which domestic producers received 1 billion 189.5 million Euro

Mushrooms prevailed in the export of vegetables. The country sold almost 203.5 thousand tonnes of them, but cruciferous vegetables, with about 180.8 thousand tonnes, and onions, with over 124.7 thousand tonnes, were also important.

Naturally, apples reigned when it came to fruit, with 1,062 thousand tonnes, but pears, cherries and raspberries were also important.

Compared to the previous year, vegetable exports that year increased by 3.6 percent, but fruit exports fell by 12 percent. It was the fruit producers who first felt the effects of the Russian embargo.

It turned out that in 2014, the export of fruit and vegetables to Russia decreased by as much as 40 percent. In total, the country exported 561.8 thousand tonnes to this country, with 559.3 thousand tonnes being sold during the first seven months of 2014; that is, before the introduction of the embargo on Polish products.

After August 2014, when the ban was imposed, only 2.5 thousand tonnes of fruit and vegetables were sold to the Russian market. In the corresponding period of the previous year, Poland had sold 214.7 thousand tonnes to Russia.

Unfortunately, 2015 was even worse, because the problem concerned not only fruit, but also vegetables. The export of Polish fruit dropped by another 19 percent to 1,113 thousand tonnes, and the country also sold fewer vegetables, with a 10% drop down to 680 thousand tonnes.

2016. Polish exports are rising
It took time to fill the gap left by the Russian demand, but in 2016 there was finally a rebound. Fruit and vegetable exports increased by 10 percent, exceeding 2 million tonnes.

Where then did Poland ship its products? First of all, to Belarus, which received 688.4 thousand tonnes; 74 percent more than a year earlier. Also, 89.6 thousand tonnes of vegetables and fruits were bought by Ukraine, and 63.3 thousand tonnes went to Kazakhstan.

In the European Union, the largest recipients were Germany (180,000 tonnes), Romania (117 thousand tonnes), and the Czech Republic (116.8 thousand tonnes). Next in the ranking were the United Kingdom (104.3 thousand tonnes), Lithuania (82.2 thousand tonnes) and Slovakia and the Netherlands (with 64 thousand tonnes).

The most exported vegetables continued to be mushrooms (220.6 thousand tonnes), onions (107.8 thousand tonnes) and tomatoes (95 thousand tonnes). Poland also sold approximately 50,000 tonnes of different types of cabbage and the same volume of pears, as well as 37 thousand tonnes of bananas (obviously re-exported). Meanwhile, cauliflower and broccoli shipments reached 27,000 tonnes.

But most importantly, in 2016 Poland exported more than 1 million tonnes of apples, which is more than half of all Polish fruit and vegetable exports.

Who bought them? Almost 70,000 tonnes were bought by Romanians, 60,000 tonnes by Kazakhs and 51 thousand tonnes by Germany. But unquestionably, the largest recipient of apples in 2016 was Belarus (513.6 thousand tonnes).

"A significant part of the lost Russian market has been replaced by others. While in the 2013/14 campaign Polish apples went to 57 countries, in the 2016/17 season this figure already reached 75," said Anna Kitala, an expert on Sectoral Analyses and Agricultural Markets of Bank BGŻ BNP Paribas.

One of the most important partners for Poland today is China
Last year, Polish authorities participated in the launch of China's "New Silk Road". At the event, which was attended by presidents Xi Jinping and Andrzej Duda, Poland chose to promote Polish apples. Duda persuaded the Chinese president to take a bite from an apple. Pictures of the presidents with the apples went round the world. Within a week, Polish companies received a lot of emails from China saying: "We want exactly the apples that Xi Jinping ate." "This is an example of the sort of modern and clever initiatives we want to implement," said Paweł Kocon, from the National Centre for Agricultural Support.

Exporting Polish apples to China has been possible only since November 2016. It is estimated that within five years, Polish fruit producers will be shipping 100,000 tonnes of fruit per year to the Middle Kingdom.

And fruit growers are still fighting to open more and more new markets. In February this year, an advertising campaign was launched to promote Polish bicolour apples in supermarket chains in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

"Polish apples have started to reach more and more distant markets, including Mongolia, Algeria, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Senegal, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Bahrain, Ghana, Honduras or Tanzania," says Anna Kitala, of BGŻ BNP Paribas.

"Their share is still small, but there are good growth prospects. Entering new markets is, however, still a long and difficult process, often associated with the need to adapt to restrictive quality requirements, as well as to different varietal preferences," she adds.

However, Polish producers have been successful in their efforts. While in the 2004/2005 season Poland exported around 18 percent of its entire apple production, in the 2016/2017 season this share increased to 28 percent.


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