Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kingdom marks inaugural official fresh-longan shipments to China

Kingdom marks inaugural official fresh-longan shipments to China

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Agriculture minister Dith Tina (right) and Chinese ambassador Wang Wentian (third right) look at arrangements of Pailin longan at an event marking the inaugural export of the fruit to China on October 27. Heng Chivoan

Kingdom marks inaugural official fresh-longan shipments to China

Longan on October 27 became the third Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to China in fresh form, after bananas and mangoes, following months of inspections and preparations.

This was the first day the Cambodian government authorised the direct export of fresh longan to China, more than a month after Beijing gave the final all-clear.

The historic moment was commemorated in a ceremony held at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, attended by newly-minted minister Dith Tina, Chinese ambassador Wang Wentian, leaders of relevant ministries and institutions, representatives of the longan community, exporters and plantation owners.

Longan – also known by the botanical name Dimocarpus longan – is a tropical evergreen tree species native to Asia that produces white-fleshed edible fruit of the soapberry family, which also includes lychees and rambutan. The most renowned variety is the Pailin longan, named after Cambodia’s second smallest province by area, which borders Chanthaburi and Trat in Thailand.

The soapberry – whose name derives from “dragon eye” as used in different varieties of Chinese – is typically harvested from August to end-December each year, with peak season in November, according to the Pailin Longan Association (PLA).

Speaking at the ceremony, the agriculture minister confirmed that eight companies have received official authorisation to export longan to China and package the fruit to ship there.

To recall, Chinese authorities in general only consider a single fresh fruit per country at a time to import. With the first official batches of longan sailing away from Cambodian shores, an official decision on the fourth fruit to export to China has yet to be made.

Nonetheless, Tina did mention potential contenders to present to Beijing for formal negotiations, such as peppercorn, fragrant coconuts, durian, pineapple, jackfruit and lotus seeds. He also noted that edible bird’s nest, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, could also be on the table for export talks.

Although a list of which of the eight companies exported the fruit on the first day was not immediately available, one of these was China Jinkwoayuan Import Export (Cambodia) Co Ltd, confirmed a representative who declined to be named.

He affirmed that a total of 13 containers loaded with 26 tonnes of longan each would be shipped from Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on October 27-28, and take five days to reach Guangzhou.

Phot Saphanborey, board director chief of Pechenda Fruit Production PFP Co Ltd, a company that cleans, processes and packages agricultural products, later told The Post that all eight companies are Chinese. He confirmed that although his business currently only processes longan to be shipped to China, it has submitted a request for export authorisation.

The agriculture minister lauded the achievement as a “huge step forward for Cambodia”, commending the men and women of the ministry’s

General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) and all stakeholders for their work towards improving access to promising markets for locally-grown longan and ensuring quality and safety.

Tina also congratulated the eight official exporters as well as everyone involved with the 74 longan plantations owned by PLA members.

These concerted efforts will improve incomes and livelihoods of longan growers and promote development of the agricultural sector and spur economic growth, in line with the National Policy for Agricultural Development 2022-2030 and Rectangular Strategy Phase IV, he underscored.

Tina added that the inaugural export would “not have been possible” without the comprehensive strategic partnership between both countries, which he said is fuelling agricultural development.

Elaborating further, he said the partnership has yielded in elevated agricultural production through an uptick in Chinese investors, new infrastructure such as packaging and processing facilities for export, job creation, increased incomes for farmers, and general support for socio-economic development in the Kingdom.

Speaking at the same event, the ambassador hailed the maiden export as a major feat of Chinese-Cambodian agricultural cooperation – in light of Covid-19 – which he said would bring tangible benefits to the people of both counties and further develop the “friendly relations” between the Asian nations.

Wang noted that longan is the third Cambodian agricultural product to be approved for export to China this year, after iridescent shark catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) and corn.

Although Covid-19 has undermined Cambodia’s economic development over the past two years, Sino-Cambodian agricultural cooperation, bolstered by the attentiveness of leaders of both countries, has been “strong”, resulting in “a series of fruitful results”, he said.

“Agriculture is an important area of cooperation between China and Cambodia. We believe that with the joint efforts of both sides, more and more high-quality Cambodian agricultural products will be exported to China.

“Agricultural cooperation between China and Cambodia will also reach a new level, which will contribute to the development of an all-round community of common destiny,” Wang added.

The ambassador confirmed that both countries are working to bring more Cambodian agricultural merchandise into China, such as peppercorn, aquaculture products, “wildlife”, edible bird’s nest, coconuts and “edible aquatic animals”.

For reference on the last item, Cambodia is due to sign three major protocols with Chinese Customs on November 9, opening the door for exports of local peppercorn, “wild aquatic products” and “edible aquatic animals” to China, according to agriculture ministry secretary of state Hean Vanhan.

Pechenda’s Saphanborey estimated that Cambodia can produce more than 100,000 tonnes of longan each year, a figure he believes will increase as more trees are planted and get older, noting that they can bear fruit for roughly 55 years after reaching their mature age at 5 years.

“The Chinese market will be a big help for Cambodian farmers growing longan,” he said, revealing that domestic demand for the fruit is no more than half of the amount produced locally, resulting in a heavy reliance on international markets.

Worse still, even as longan yields continue to grow, a considerable amount is smuggled from Vietnam into Cambodia, Saphanborey claimed.

GDA director-general Ngin Chhay recapped that the journey to export fresh Cambodian longan to China began back in June 5, 2019, with the General Administration of Customs of China giving the final green light on September 7, 2022.

GDA data show that Cambodia exported more than 830,000 tonnes of agricultural products to China last year, valued at nearly $700 million. The figure for the first nine months of 2022 topped 580,000 tonnes, worth over $491 million.

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