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Top promising fruits and vegetables for Ukrainian exports to China according to Andriy Yarmak

China is not an extremely promising sales market for Ukrainian vegetables and fruits. According to Andrii Yarmak, the economist of the investment department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), China is rather a competitor of Ukraine in the markets of Asia and the Middle East. The expert shared his research and opinion during the online discussion “Fruit and vegetable exports to China: barriers and opportunities for Ukrainian producers”, organised by the Ukrainian Horticultural Association (UHA) and the Sapienza agro media agency.

Considering theoretically promising export positions, Andrii Yarmak advises paying attention to the premium segment of such goods as fresh cherries, apples, and frozen garden strawberries. However, Ukrainian producers need to ensure high-quality products and take into account all the requirements for working with importers from the Middle East.

Read more: EU, Middle East, Asia – priority markets for Ukrainian raspberry exports says UHA

According to Andrii Yarmak, the UN FAO team, together with specialists from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Ukrainian Horticultural Association and the Fruit-Inform project, conducted the assessment of the Chinese fruit and vegetable market in terms of the attractiveness of Ukrainian producers entering it. Based on the research data, specialists have compiled a rating of promising fruit and vegetable products for exports from Ukraine to the PRC, which includes seven items: sweet cherries, apples, frozen garden strawberries, plums, frozen raspberries, walnuts, and frozen blueberries and bilberries. Only two categories, namely Ukrainian walnuts and frozen blueberries and bilberries, are currently open on the Chinese market.

“In 2019, the volume of Ukrainian exports of frozen wild bilberries to the Chinese market reached $9.5 million, making 17% of all Ukrainian exports of these products. The second category is walnut. Considering that China is one of the leading exporters of these products, the level of Ukraine’s supplies is insignificant – it is worth about $0.7 million per year. This amount represents about 0.5% of our annual walnut exports and 2.5% of Chinese imports of these products,” explains Andrii Yarmak.

The FAO economist noted that the most promising Ukrainian fruit and vegetable products for exports to the Chinese market are sweet cherries. However, the bad news for Ukrainian exporters is that China imports them before the Chinese New Year, that is, in winter.

“It is exactly when Ukrainian producers have no chance to supply it. Therefore, in winter, China imports sweet cherries mainly from Chile and Peru. However, there are also some imports of premium products in summer, that we could do. Products from the USA and Canada, which supply about 20,000 tons of sweet cherries to China per year, dominate in this segment. However, currently, there are very few premium-quality sweet cherries in Ukraine. Therefore, I estimate our potential for exporting sweet cherries to China at about 1,000 tons,” reports Andrii Yarmak.

At the same time, he notes that China effectively invests in the development of its sweet cherry production: “Moreover, greenhouses in China already grow a significant part of sweet cherries; that is, the domestic producers are focusing on the premium segment.”

Read more: Ukrainian cherries and blueberries are promising exports to China

The second promising position of Ukrainian exports to China is apple. “China is one of the world leaders in apple exports, but, as a rule, they supply the products of the cheapest segment. Ukraine, in turn, operates in the segment close to premium at a very competitive price. Since Ukraine grows a premium quality apple, it is possible to supply it to China successfully. Our segment is now occupied by the USA, France, and partly by Poland. The latter supplies China with a premium apple at a price similar to that of for Singapore. The entire volume of the segment is estimated at 17,000 tons. Ukraine can supply about 2,000 tons of apples to China per year. This is an essential volume, though not critical for Ukraine,” said Andrii Yarmak.

At the same time, Andrii Yarmak notes that it is rather challenging to supply apples to China. First of all, China is a big country. “In Ukraine, apple producers are mostly small farms that can export, respectively, small volumes that are not relevant to Chinese importers. Therefore, we need to think twice before starting supplies, because there are countries where it is much easier to export to,” the FAO economist explains.

Andrii Yarmak says frozen garden strawberries are the third promising fruit and vegetable position. Currently, China imports this berry from Egypt, Chile, USA, and Poland. “At the same time, Ukrainian products are probably already entering the Chinese market through Poland. The export potential of Ukrainian producers of frozen garden strawberries is approximately up to 1,000 tons,” the FAO economist said.

A theoretically possible segment for exports to China is plum if there is an appropriate product quality in Ukraine. “But I would not consider this position as one that is worth pursuing, because even the United States supplies the Chinese market with no more than 4,000 tons of plums per year. Therefore, it is worth arranging the supply of plums if there is a strong position in the market and only as an assortment position, when many other categories of fruits are already being supplied,” notes Andrii Yarmak.

He also noted that theoretically, Ukraine could compete for the supply of 200-300 tons of frozen raspberries, which is a relatively insignificant volume for both Ukraine and China.

Andrii Yarmak also reported that China’s annual imports volume of fruits and vegetables equals $12.5 billion. For the sake of comparison, it is necessary to exclude the exotic fruits that do not grow in Ukraine, and the products supplied outside the Ukrainian season from the Southern Hemisphere. Then the import of vegetables and fruits to China will not be so significant, in particular $270 million. However, out of this volume, in future Ukraine could compete for about $20-30 million of exports value.

“Even this volume is essential for potential Ukrainian exports to China. However, remember that China has rather high requirements for imports. To obtain permission to operate in this market, the exporter needs to spend some money, as well as several years to open a certain category of products,” the UN FAO economist said.

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