China opens borders to greenhouse vegetables

China is the world’s biggest producer of food. And yet, they’re increasingly opening their borders for products from elsewhere. Last year, the borders were opened for pears, and soon bell peppers will join them.

Powdered milk and Heineken beer are popular Dutch products in China. The Chinese pay more for safe, European and luxurious products than for things produced in China. “In supermarkets there, you see a lot of products from Europe. From cheese to milk, and from cornflakes to chocolate,” says Marc Domaniecki of Minichamp. “It’s not just for the wealthy Chinese, but also in supermarkets where the growing middle class does its grocery shopping, where perhaps 70% is imported.” Domaniecki also does business with China. Minichamp exports home-grow packages for mushrooms to China. In all honesty, he believes, they can make that in China too. “But if it’s from China, they don’t trust it. Mushrooms you can grow yourself? That has to be tampered with. Only when it comes from Europe and there’s an import stamp on it, do they want to have it.”

Fresh fruit and vegetables are exported as well. Since 2006, the import has nearly doubled from 1.03 million tonnes to 1.91 million tonnes in 2009, and 3.8 million tonnes in 2013. Now a lot is coming from Australia – but export is also on the rise in other countries. In April, the first Canadian cucumbers arrived, although China is still the world’s biggest producer of cucumbers. “In the past, it was thought that China would only import premium fruit like cherries and grapes,” says Jim Provost of Lantao and I Love Produce. “But for years, I’ve been saying that one day we’ll even send garlic to China.” The mini cucumbers he imports are already popular. These CuteCumbers come from well-known Canadian nursery Mucci Farms. “People love them here,” says John Wang of Lantao. “Because they are seedless, crunchy and sweet, and have a good, snackable size. This is a prime opportunity.”

Since September 1, 2014, China has also been importing pears from the Netherlands, after years of negotiations. “There is a huge potential for the export of pears, in view of the size of the market and the growing economy. In the long run, the Chinese market is a crucial market for Dutch pears. But first the Conference pear will have to earn its spot in Chinese stores,” Fruitmasters announced back then. The bell pepper is next on the export list. It was expected that they could be shipped to China this year already, but the process has been slightly delayed. “We hope to receive an audit visit from the Chinese inspectors in the fall, and next spring we want to start with a pilot from the visited greenhouses. If everything goes well, we can expand the export in the course of the year,” says Inge Ribbens, who is involved with the project from Frugi Venta. In all, seven production companies would be allowed to export their produce.

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