The Straits Times says

Diverse markets limit damage to exports

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Some South-east Asian fruit farmers are feeling the brunt of Covid-19 as their produce has got stuck at the borders of their main market: China. The development has underscored the risk of over-dependence on any one market, no matter how lucrative, and the need for diversification. Over the December to January period, thousands of trucks were held up at China's borders with Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos as Beijing stepped up controls following fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 there and in keeping with its zero-Covid-19 policy. It got so bad that Vietnam appealed to China early last month to take steps to ease the congestion at the border with China's Guangxi province.

It was reported that more than one million Vietnamese dragon fruit, mango and jackfruit farmers have been hit by border restrictions and many have incurred debts. China accounts for more than 55 per cent of Vietnam's US$3.2 billion (S$4.3 billion) in fruit and vegetable exports. Still, the China market has been irresistible and lucrative to South-east Asian farmers as the Chinese middle class has burgeoned and arising from this, so have their appetite for and ability to afford exotic fruit from tropical Asia. Chinese consumption of durian, for example, has been soaring even through the pandemic, with the import value of the fruit hitting US$4.13 billion in the first 11 months of last year. Most of the durians come from Thailand, which exports 93 per cent of its spiky fruit to China. As the new harvesting season begins, Thai durian farmers are now bracing themselves for problems at the Chinese border due to Covid-19 outbreaks. The country is also putting in place stricter sanitation measures to reassure the Chinese that Thai durians are Covid-19-free.

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