An indefinite Chinese ban on Thai longan imposed on August 13 over contamination with mealybugs has thrown a wrench into Cambodian exports of the fruit to the neighbouring country, according to a senior Cambodian government official.
And as the harvest season ramps up in Cambodia, tens of thousands of tonnes of longan will be unable to reach their intended destinations as Thai traders and importers cancel orders, and a considerable portion of the fruit could be left to rot, an industry player emphasised.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries secretary of state Hean Vannhorn said via Facebook: “Thailand will beyond a doubt stop buying Pailin longan from Cambodia, which it had typically bought to repackage for export to China.”
He stressed that mealybugs generally do not make longan toxic to humans, but can serve as a medium for several plant diseases, making them species of international phytosanitary concern.
He cited a similar case in 2016, in which China banned Philippine bananas after detecting the presence of grey pineapple mealybug (Dysmicoccus neobrevipes) on a consignment from the archipelago country and destroyed tonnes of the fruit.
“Remember that any product allowed for export is a result of the Royal Government’s negotiation efforts, and that access can easily be revoked on grounds of, among other things, too limited an ability to cultivate, inadequate export packaging … and dishonesty among exporters,” he said.
Cultivation in the era of free trade requires not only strong yields, but high-capacity management and infrastructure, and especially a deep understanding of the needs and conditions of the market.
Somdet Susomboon, director-general of the Thai Ministry of Commerce’s Department of International Trade Promotion, noted that the ban was announced at very short notice, adding that he had tasked a commerce attache in China to request the ban be delayed, according to the Bangkok Post.
But negotiations failed.
Somdet was quoted as saying: “Thai longan exports will be affected because 70-80 per cent … [were] destined for China. The department will find potential markets in Southeast Asia to compensate.”
However, Cambodia is hardly likely to buy the fruit, as it grapples with an export conundrum of its own.
Pailin Longan Association board of directors vice-chairman Suon Chum estimates that about 50,000 tonnes of Pailin longan will be affected by the ban, potentially leading to significant repercussions on the market at large.
“If the longan cannot be exported, it’ll spoil within 20 days from the date of harvest. All that longan will be discarded because we don’t have the storage facilities,” he said.
He noted that 70 per cent of Pailin longan is exported to China through Thailand and 30 per cent is supplied to the domestic market.
On August 12, the agriculture ministry called on exporters of Pailin longan to divert their products from Thailand to Vietnam in light of the Covid-related Cambodia-Thai border closures.
Cambodia and Vietnam have agreed on phytosanitary requirements permitting Cambodian longan to enter the Vietnamese market, as distributors and exporters face significant plant-protection barriers and a raft of other obstacles posed by the pandemic, the ministry said in a statement.
It called on the private sector and general public to ditch imports and buy locally-grown longan instead to keep farmers and producers in business during the prolonged economic slump.
“People should support Khmer products – help buy our longan fruit under the spirit of ‘Khmers help Khmers’. Buy the fruit from our farmers, especially the Pailin longan farming community during this difficult situation.
“We call on owners of supermarkets, companies and local agricultural processing cottage industries to help stock up on Pailin longan to sell, distribute or process for local consumption instead of importing canned longan from abroad.”
The ministry said it holds out strong hopes that the public will heed its plea and keep the spirit of promoting productivity alive and foster a greater sense of pride in the community.
Pailin longan is expected to be the third Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to the Chinese market, after bananas and mangoes, according to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon.
Longan – also known by the botanical name Dimocarpus longan – is a tropical evergreen tree species native to Asia that produces edible fruit. And according to the minister, in Cambodia the fruit is mostly grown in Pailin and Battambang provinces and parts of Preah Vihear province.
But as the ministry’s director-general for Agriculture Ngin Chhay previously told The Post, Chinese authorities only consider a single product per country at a time to import.
The Kingdom has proposed Pailin longan as the next fruit to export to China, so that Beijing can determine eligibility for import. However, the Chinese side has yet to respond.