Fruit and vegetable growers in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta are trying to extend their markets into other regional countries and even the EU in an attempt to reduce their heavy reliance on China.
China is the largest importer of most of the green produce from the Mekong Delta, but exports have recently slowed down due to the high tension caused by a drilling rig Beijing has illegally placed in Vietnamese waters at the beginning of last month.
Prices of several products such as durian, mangos, star apples, jackfruit, sweet potatoes, and blue dragon fruit have thus plunged accordingly, sending farmers to find new outlets for the fruits.
Agricultural businesses are considering exporting their products to Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and India, with Cambodia emerging as the most suitable alternative.
This is because products of lesser quality are still accepted by the Cambodian market, while the two countries are geographically close, according to industry insiders.
Nguyen Thanh Hien, who runs a fruit trading facility in Tien Giang Province, said he has boosted sales to Cambodia over the last month.
“Even though the export quantity is not large, the transport costs are low due to the short distance,” he said.
Tran Huu Danh, director of Long Viet Co Ltd, a blue dragon fruit exporter based in Tien Giang, has managed to go even further, as he recently sent shipments to India.
“India is a large yet not demanding market,” he said.
“Our company has planned to penetrate further into the Indian market in the next three to five years and we will become less dependent on China then.”
Long Viet Co used to export 90 percent of its products to China but the Chinese partners have recently halted imports over the tension in the East Vietnam Sea, the director said.
The company has thus sought alternative markets including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
“Demand for blue dragon fruit in the ASEAN countries is not as large as in China but generally speaking, the fruit is favored in these markets,” he said.
Targeting strict markets
Professor Nguyen Quoc Vong, an agricultural expert, said there is a huge global demand for clean and high-quality green produce, and Vietnam should try to join the game.
“But the country must change its traditional cultivation methods and adapt modern and high technology to be able to grow international standardized products,” he said.
In fact, some Vietnamese green produce has managed to enter demanding markets.
The first batch of Vietnamese blue dragon fruit, for instance, recently arrived in New Zealand one month after it was officially recognized in the Pacific Ocean country, according to the Plant Protection Department.
New Zealand is the latest in many strict markets that Vietnamese blue dragon fruit has managed to penetrate, following Japan, South Korea, Chile, Canada, the U.S., and the EU.
Other fruits, including mangos, longans, litchis, rambutans, and star apples, will also be exported to these high demand markets if quarantine procedures are passed, according to agricultural experts.
“Businesses must try to find partners and launch promotional programs to bring their products to these markets,” said Nguyen Huu Dat, director of the quarantine supervision agency under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Department.
Beijing has stationed its Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig in Vietnamese waters of the East Vietnam Sea since May 1 despite fierce protests from Hanoi.