The headquarters of the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade in Hanoi were a bit more crowded than usual on Thursday morning and ministry officials were busier too, though not with their routine work.
The ministry turned its office into a watermelon stall and officials became sellers, with a pile of straws scattered on the ground to bear nearly 20 metric tons of the fruit atop.
The ministry brought home 19 metric tons of watermelons from the Tan Thanh border gate in the northern province of Lang Son, where up to 500 trucks carrying the fruits are waiting for their turn to cross the border to China for goods distribution.
Around 800 such trucks flock to the border gate on a daily basis, whereas the Chinese side is only capable of receiving 300 vehicles a day, according to Nguyen Duong Thai, deputy head of the Vietnam Customs.
Trucks have no choice but to queue in lines for hours to wait their turn and the quality of the watermelon will only suffer due to the long wait, Thai said.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade thus decided to give these Vietnamese traders a helping hand.
“We bought a truck of watermelons and put them on sale at our headquarters to share the hardship with the Vietnamese [watermelon] farmers and traders,” Tran Thanh Hai, deputy head of the import-export department with the ministry, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Hai said they almost sold out the fruit by midday.
“Buyers included not only the ministry officials but also those from other state organizations, and students from nearby universities,” he said.
The official added the ministry had made a necessary move, and if other government organizations follow suit, “the congestion at the Tan Thanh border gate will be eased.”
But the public do not seem to agree, as they demand a “macrocosmic solution” from the ministry.
It is not uncommon for traders to suffer low prices and payment default when selling agriculture produce to China across the border.
Most of the transactions are made without contracts, and Vietnamese farmers or traders only receive payments once the goods are on Chinese soil.
The phenomenon has existed for years without a solution from the ministry, which oversees the country’s import and export activities.
“This is only an interim solution,” a Tuoi Tre reader commented.
“The ministry should have a long-term solution to the watermelon export issue as they just cannot help farmers this way again in the years to come.”
A “macrocosmic solution,” according to many Tuoi Tre readers, is that the ministry thinks of a way to turn fresh watermelon into bottled beverages or food to reduce the unsold inventory.
“This is so touching to see the ministry work as a retailer,” a reader mocked. “I think you should find a more stable and safe outlet for the fruit instead of relying [on the Chinese market].”