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Why are Chilean fruits so successful in China?

After three years of negotiations, the Chilean nectarine finally got permission to enter the Chinese market in late November 2016. Nectarines thus join the long list of fruits that China imports from the Andean country, such as cherries or apples, and that increasingly have more presence in their supermarkets and electronic platforms.

In order to present the nectarines to local consumers, the commercial counselor of Chile in China, Andreas Pierotic, presided over a ceremony in Beijing in late March. Participants got to taste nectarines, fresh avocados with a simple tapas, and then sat back to enjoy a performance of Cueca, a typical dance from Chile.

The show was organized by ProChile, who are responsible for promoting exports of Chilean goods and services, and contribute to the spread of foreign investment and tourism promotion.

Most of the first batches of nectarines reaching China are produced and exported by GESEX, Chile's largest stone fruit company. According to Gonzalo Matamala, their manager in China, the company currently exports yellow nectarines with white flesh, and each piece carries a bar code "showing their identity to ensure quality."

Since Chile and China signed a free trade agreement in 2005, various kinds of fruit, such as cherries, blueberries, kiwis, plums, apples, grapes and avocados, have been gaining popularity in the Asian giant and can be found in many supermarkets and electronic platforms, such as Tmall, Alibaba group, and JD.

According to data recently published by the Chilean Embassy in China, Chile exported a total of 1.2 billion dollars of fruit to the Asian nation in 2016, i.e. 22% more than in the previous year, which allowed them to replace Thailand as China's largest supplier of fresh fruit.

Why do fruits from such a distant country have such a presence in China? According to Matamala, Chile's greatest advantage is that their production takes place in the counter-season. "When China is in winter, Chile is in summer," he said.

"Our nectarine exports (a fruit native to China) start in November and end in March. After that, the Chinese market sells local nectarines, so the Chinese can consume it throughout the year," he said.

"Moreover, local competition can be avoided," said Matamala, who also believes that GESEX can promote its brand on the occasion of the Lunar New Year, the most important traditional Chinese holiday which is usually celebrated in January or February.

Chile's complex and diverse climate allows it to grow a great variety of fruits. According to Pierotic, Chinese consumers consider Chilean fruits are "clean, safe, and healthy."

"Chilean agricultural products are rigorously monitored in the orchards, packaging and transport processes, so they are not contaminated," Pierotic said. This, he said, allows Chile to export more types of fruits to China than other Latin American countries.

In late 1970, Chile became the first South American country to establish diplomatic relations with China, and the bilateral relations between both countries have been developing rapidly since then. In 2005, Chile and China signed a free trade agreement; in 2015, they established a bilateral currency swap agreement; and in 2016, they announced the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Today, China is the largest trading partner of Chile, its biggest export destination and largest source of imports. Chile is the third largest trading partner of China in Latin America.

"Many procedures have been simplified over the years and it's becoming easier for us to export products to China," stated Matamala.

Pierotic said that he hoped more Chilean fruit made it to the Chinese tables and that Chile was working to achieve this. "We are trying to export pears to China, which we expect will succeed in that market," he said.

It should be noted that, despite the free trade agreement, Chilean fruits are sold at very high prices in China due to transportation costs. Nectarines, for example, are sold at nearly 35 yuan (about five dollars) per kilo, nearly seven times more expensive than Chinese nectarines. As a result, many consumers decide not to buy it.

"If, in the future, Chile manages to export fruits to China on a large scale, prices could fall, which would undoubtedly be a great benefit for Chinese gourmets like me," stated Han Xiurong, a retired official of a State-owned company.

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