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Shaanxi apples knocking on EU's door
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2007-02-06 09:12

By Liu Xiaochen

Not long ago, the China (Shaanxi)-Europe Fruit Entrepreneurs Roundtable Conference was held at Brussels, the capital of Belgium. On the Conference, representatives from both sides have one another notified of policies on fruit trade in China and Europe, status quo of fruit trading, technical standards for fruits in China and Europe as well as trading principles while going deeply into relevant issues.

Apples from Shaanxi enjoy a higher selling price in the wholesale market in Belgium

On the China (Shaanxi)-Europe Fruit Entrepreneurs Roundtable Conference (abbreviated as "the Roundtable Conference" hereinafter) held in Brussels, Belgium's capital, members of various fruit enterprises' senior management, who came to attend the Roundtable Conference from Shaanxi Province, China, did experience quite many surprises:


Firstly, the number of participants to the Roundtable Conference is unexpected. As early as making preparations for the Roundtable Conference, over 30 merchants signed up for participation in the Roundtable Conference. In fact, the actual participants had doubled those who signed up to participate in the Roundtable Conference; participants include fruit merchants from the 11 member countries of the European Union and principals of internationally well known supermarkets. Secondly, local merchants forecast a favorable expectation for fruit from Shaanxi. Dong Zhimin, Chairman of the Baishui County Hongda Construction and Fruit Industry Co., Ltd., told the reporter that originally, the EU market was not considered in the company's sales plan as the company's merchandise was already rather limited; however, a certain merchant from Netherlands signed an order for 5,000 tons of fruits, which had nearly "bought up" all the existing merchandise of the company. It is known that during the Roundtable Conference, representatives from Shaanxi had signed 15 trade contracts or cooperation agreements with the contract sum amounting to US$110 million while some more new trade contracts or cooperation agreements are being fermented or in negotiation.


In the CEI Fruit and Vegetable Wholesale Market in Brussels, Newton, who was in charge, noted that the Huasheng apples from Shaanxi had been auctioned at the highest price in the market. Wang Zhenxing, Director general of Shaanxi Provincial Fruit Bureau, told the reporter that apples from Shaanxi had been performing very well in the EU market since their entry in 2004; although apples from Shaanxi were not exported to the market in large batches at present, all clients who had ever tasted an apple from Shaanxi had a strong desire to order such apples.

Security and quality: doorsills for the access to the EU market

While experiencing surprises on the Roundtable Conference, entrepreneurs from Shaanxi's fruit industry had achieved a further awareness of huge commercial opportunities in the EU market and the high doorsill for the access to the EU market.

Firstly, there lie huge potentials in EU's fruit market. As introduced by Jerzy Bodgan Plewa, a deputy director general of European Commission's Directorates-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, the fruit industry in Europe has been pacing up and down in recent 10 years with the production value of fruits accounting for about 10 percent of the production value for the planting industry. Statistics in 2005 show that EU's total apple output amounted to 12 million tons, its pear output 2.6 million tons, and its orange output 10.50 million tons while among the total output of various fruits, organic fruits amounted to 200,000 tons. Plewa said that as Europe was one of the important consumers of fruits in the world, the European Union imported about 10 million tons of various fruits from all parts of the world with a worth of over 17 billion euro; apples and oranges accounted for a major part with imported apples adding up to 850,000 tons, imported pears adding up to 300,000 tons, imported oranges adding up to 800,000 tons, and imported organic fruits of various kinds adding up to 200,000 tons. Nevertheless, with a view on the present status, China has failed to seize substantial shares so far as fruits imported by the EU are concerned with its exports of 50,000 tons of apples and 15,000 tons of pears. Europeans consume much, they have a strong purchasing power and prices in the market are high. However, locally produced fruits including apples have failed to satisfy the demands in the market due to the restrictions of such factors as labor costs.

A certain British merchant emphasized in the speech that they had noticed the competitive potentials of apples from Shaanxi in the EU market, which could be proved with statistics: in 2002, apple juice concentrate from Shaanxi pushed deeply into the European market with its competitive advantage as a kind of quality product at an inexpensive price after it landed in the European market. In 2005, 40 percent of Shaanxi's fruit juice concentrates were exported to Europe and those exports were mainly supplied to such internationally well-known beverage enterprises as Coca Cola, Nestle, and Heinz. It is estimated that out of the 2.5 cups of beverage that a European drinks each day, a cup will be apple juice from Shaanxi. Statistics provided by this Roundtable Conference show that Shaanxi has become the largest production base of apple juice concentrate in the world.

Secondly, in the EU market special attentions are paid to the quality and security of imported fruits. As introduced by Plewa, EU's conditions for market access are rather strict and there are respective relevant standards in various fields including social responsibility, environment, sanitation, being secure to eat and management; major authentication standards include ISO9000 and HACCP (Quality Control Systems), ISO14000 (a standard for environmental management systems), SA8000 (a standard system of social responsibilities), EUREPGAP (Euro-Retailer Produce Working Group's Good Agricultural Practices) and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice). As prescribed by the Euro-Retailer Produce Working Group as a guild of large supermarkets in Europe, only farm produces having reached the EUREPGAP standards are qualified to enter into large supermarkets in Europe. In addition, Europe has raised corresponding requirements on the quality of fruits (including restrictions on agrochemical residuals), packaging, quality certificate and inspection and quarantine.

On the Roundtable Conference, many European merchants showed profound interests in "organic fruits" from Shaanxi. Through introductions made by the Shaanxi side, participants to the Roundtable Conference had not only known that for the time being, the area north to the Weihe River in Shaanxi Province is the largest area that is appropriate for apple trees to grow in the world (with an existing planting area of 6.70 million mu, equivalent to over a half of the total area for apple planting in EU member countries) but also known that with efforts made during quite a few years, there had built up the largest green fruit production base in the world in that area while the authentication for the construction of production bases for organic and exported fruits had been launched. Till August 2006, 300,000 mu apple yards in Shaanxi Province had passed such international authentications as EU's EUREPGAP, Canada, Thailand, and TNC and products from those apple yards could be sold in batch in the world's high-end markets like in the European Union.

Thirdly, EU's fruit industry has a perfect system. Just take apples for an example. Although in general, apples planted in Europe are inferior to apples from Shaanxi in terms of the quality of respective apples, the industrial chain from the production of fruits to the processing, packaging, storage and transportation, and the sale is extremely perfect in major apple producers among EU member countries and apples having been treated bear high added-values as a very high proportion of apples will be treated as a commodity with the advanced storage technology and the fancy packaging.

EU market: values are realized on the "chain"

In supermarkets in Germany, France and Austria, etc., the retailing prices of fruits made entrepreneurs from Shaanxi highly exciting. Apples with a less favorable appearance that can be bought from fruit planting farmers at the price of RMB1.5 yuan per kilo in Shaanxi were sold at the price of about Euro 2 per kilo in supermarkets in those countries; and good-looking "organic" apples with a higher acidity will be sold at a price range from Euro 4 to 6 per kilo. Local residents told the reporter that although those fruits in supermarkets appeared to be less favorable, the fine packaging and the "organic" authentication had undoubtedly helped to raise their price.

The follow-up treatment of fresh fruits is where more efforts should be made on the road for apples from Shaanxi to step into high-end markets. On the Roundtable Conference, a French entrepreneur said in his speech, "I have just tasted an apple from Shaanxi and it really tastes well. But to be frank, I have found out when having seen the situation introduced by your delegation with multimedia presentation that the overall follow-up industrial chain for apples from Shaanxi is still rather weak and it will direct hold them back from entering into the EU market if such an issue cannot be well solved." During their study tour in the EU market, some entrepreneurs from Shaanxi had completely changed their ideas. They told the reporter that many distributors had been selling apples just picked from trees in the market since the apple industry began to develop in a large scale in Shaanxi, but this tour in the European countries had made them realize profoundly that such apples are simple "raw materials". 
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