"The Belarusian government's new protectionist measures significantly affect the Belgian Class II pear market," says Dominiek Noppe of Vergro. Hundreds of trucks containing European goods, including Conference pears from Belgium, have been stuck at the Belarusian border since last week.
"We're dreading to see what will return. Last week, our customers were still expecting everything to return to normal. But, by now, they realize that's not going to happen. So, solutions are being sought elsewhere." The clients loaded the trucks, so Dominiek does not know which got across, went elsewhere, or will return. "Each day the trucks stay at the border, increases our buyers' costs."
Belarus closing its borders to European fruit and vegetables surprised Dominiek. "The pears' picture actually looked perfect. At the time of loading, there was a huge demand," he says.
The trade boycott is Belarus' president, Alexander Loekasjenko's counter-reaction, Hilde Vautmans, a member of the European Parliament, told Belgian Radio 1. European fruit and vegetables are not welcome in Belarus for six months. The ban hits Belgium, as the third largest exporter, extremely hard.
Belgium's pear harvest comprises 30% Class II. Since the European market is saturated, there are currently few alternatives for these. "Eventually, the market will always find its way, but because of the oversupply, the price will fall sharply," explains Dominiek.
"Once prices drop low enough, someone will step in. However, we could sell Class II pears for only €0.10 less than Class I. Now, that's €0.40. That's also affecting bulk bin sale prices. We're struggling to even reach €0.50 for bulk Belgian pears."
The company will check the pears' quality once the trucks have returned. "The longer they're on the road, the worse for the quality," says Noppe. "We'll have to see if they still meet our standards and look for lines where we can still get the pears out."
Dominiek is pessimistic about the rest of the season. "Should the trucks all return within the next fortnight, the market will probably stabilize again. Planners will start to take into account that going to Belarus is no longer an option, and will look for solutions elsewhere. However, the price won't recover, I fear. And, we're losing an important sales market," he concludes.