To have the prospect of the Chinese market, open at last to South African pears after the initial access applications started over 15 years ago, snatched away at the last moment is very disappointing, says Thomas Mouton, head of topfruit at Core Fruit, a feeling widely shared in the industry, coupled with annoyance that it has taken so long.

Five years ago South African apples received access to China, but the fate for pears, submitted along with apples, remained undecided. The European pear market isn’t growing much and opportunities in China would relieve pressure from the traditional markets for South African pears.

“It’s a big frustration, especially seeing that the negotiations have been ongoing for so many years. The expectation was that we would start this season with pears to China. There is definite interest from China, particularly regarding Forelle and some of the early blush pears like Cheeky.”

The South African and Chinese ministers of agriculture met in South Africa in November last year, at which occasion it was hoped that the long-awaited protocol allowing South African pears into China would at last be signed.

When that didn’t happen, due to various reasons, the understanding was that the South African agriculture minister would travel to her Chinese counterpart in March some time where the process would have been concluded, plans that have now been put on hold due to the coronavirus.

There is a list of South African fruit commodities waiting for market access negotiations with China to start, stoppered by pears, as it has been for years now. Next in line would be avocados, followed by stonefruit and blueberries.

Coronavirus disrupts Minister’s travel plans
“That’s all that still needs to be done,” says Jacques du Preez, general manager: trade and markets at Hortgro, industry body for deciduous fruit. “The South African delegation would have travelled to China in the next month to sign the protocol, but there wasn’t a fixed date yet. We would’ve launched South African pears at that occasion, but now it’s unsure when South African pears will finally be able to go to China.”

“DAFF [the South African department of agriculture] is ready to go ahead as soon as they receive the go-ahead from the Chinese government,” he continues.

“Many fruit exporters had already lined up possibilities for themselves in China and they remain ready to proceed as soon as the protocol is signed.”

He is optimistic about the prospects for pears from the Forelle Early Market Access programme, as well as normal Forelle, in China.

South African apple exports into China triple over a year
South African apples gained entry into China five years ago and have been making hay: last year exports of mostly Fuji and Galas to China more than tripled to 770,000 cartons of 12.5kg equivalent, from 200,000 the year before. The main reason was the drastic reduction in China’s apple crop.

The level of growth probably won’t be the same this year, Jacques notes, but new relationships and business have been established which, he says, is very positive. –