Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1357, (17 - 23 August 2017)
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1357, (17 - 23 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

China approves Egyptian grapes

Proper quality control will be essential if Egypt is to retain Chinese markets for its grapes, writes Nesma Nowar

China approves Egyptian grapes
China approves Egyptian grapes

Egypt is now exporting grapes to China for the first time after the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) agreed in mid-July to open Chinese markets to imports from Egypt.

The move came after almost two years of negotiations. Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation Abdel-Moneim Al-Banna said the opening of the Chinese market to Egyptian grapes was an opportunity to boost the country’s agricultural exports, which currently exceed $2.2 billion.

 He added that the news confirmed the success of Egypt’s agricultural strategy, which depends on expanding exports to new markets in order to maximise returns. It also confirmed the quality of Egyptian grapes, he said. 

Mustafa Al-Naggari, treasurer of the Agricultural Export Council (AEC), said that 15 farms had been approved by a Chinese delegation to export grapes to China during its last visit to Egypt. He said that Chinese delegations would visit Egypt periodically to inspect the farms.

Explaining why it had taken China two years to approve the grapes imports, Al-Naggari said that every country had the right to set its own conditions on products entering its markets.

China’s approval of imports of Egyptian grapes in some 20 months was an achievement, he said, adding that it had taken the United States eight years to gain China’s approval for American rice to enter the Chinese market.  

He added that Chinese standards did not harm Egyptian farms, but could help the industry because it would prompt others to improve in order to export their produce. 

Egypt has exported 115,000 tons of grapes globally this year, of which little has thus far been exported to China. “I expect next year Egypt will export at least 40,000 tons of grapes to China,” Al-Naggari told Al-Ahram Weekly.

But for Egypt to achieve this volume, Al-Naggari said, Chinese delegations would need to continue to visit Egypt to follow-up on the farms and approve others so that the exports could increase.

The government is encouraging farms and factories in Egypt to observe strict quality controls such that they can become eligible for export activities.

The ministries of agriculture and trade jointly issued a decree in May regulating the production and export of Egyptian vegetables and fruit. It stipulates that before any product can be exported, it must be produced on farms that commit to certain standards and bars any farm from exporting if these are not met, Al-Naggari said.  

The same conditions also apply to packaging. 

Though this system has worked for some producers, others have had difficulty implementing it. Al-Naggari said that small producers may not be able to adopt the system because of the high costs of implementing the requirements. 

“This has been a problem particularly for strawberries and peppers because most of their producers are small,” he said. 

In July, Saudi Arabia imposed a temporary ban on imports of Egyptian strawberries due to suspected pesticide residues. The United Arab Emirates also banned imports of peppers from the country in May over concerns over high levels of pesticides.

Pesticide and heavy mineral residues has also been the reason Iraq has tightened regulations on imported vegetables and fruit from Egypt.

Al-Naggari said that these Arab countries had recently started their own food safety programmes, and these had led to some confusion among Egyptian producers who would need time to adapt.

Besides grapes, Egypt also exports oranges to China. Since December, Egypt has exported 120,000 tons of oranges to the country, with Al-Naggari expecting this figure to double next year. 

Opening the Chinese market to Egyptian grapes was an important step that would open the door for other agricultural products, he said. Negotiations are now underway with China for the export of onions, pomegranates and dates.

But while this is an opportunity for Egypt, it is also a challenge, Al-Naggari said, explaining the importance of retaining the Chinese market by continuing to stick to export standards. 

“There should be penalties imposed on anyone who violates the specifications in order to preserve the reputation of Egyptian exports,” he said. 

Egypt’s trade deficit declined by 48 per cent in the first four months of 2017 to stand at $8.5 billion, compared to $16.2 billion in the same period last year, Trade Minister Tarek Kabil said in May. 

The decline is attributed to a 14 per cent hike in exports during that period to stand at $7.43 billion, up from $6.54 billion in the same period of 2016.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s exports of agricultural products increased by 25 per cent this year, especially potato and citrus exports, Al-Banna said in May. He added that his ministry was working on increasing agricultural exports, which would encourage further investment in the agricultural sector. 

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