First Chilean blueberries on their way to China

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First Chilean blueberries on their way to China

Chile's first shipment of blueberries to China was officially approved by visiting inspectors yesterday. Exporter Frusan has sent 220 cartons of the fruit to Shanghai by air via Sydney with Qantas, which should arrive within two days.

The food safety processes were business-as-usual in the company's packing plant in San Fernando, except for the language spoken by inspectors and orange stickers that read 'Exported to the People's Republic of China'.

Chen Huazhong

Two Chinese inspectors, accompanied by a translator, checked through a sample of clamshell blueberry packs, revising the fruit under the microscope and looking for any defects or quarantine issues. Their Chilean counterparts from the Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG) did the same.

Once inspector Chen Huazhong gave the nod there were smiles all around. The group left the refrigerated facility, hairnets came off and the deal was then merely a matter of paperwork and stamps.

"I have to make a comment about the SAG officials, because after working a few days together we have had a very good impression of them, they have worked in a very applied way, and the relations between us have been very good," said inspector Wu Jiajiao from the Guangdong Inspection and Quarantine Technology Center Plant Quarantine Lab, who is a Professor of Entomology.

"With blueberries we think the fruit is very good, and above all from the inspection we are very trusting that SAG know about the biological agents that would constitute a risk for China, and that makes us very relaxed."

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Time in transit

Wu was unable to say how long the fruit would take to arrive in supermarkets once it arrived in Shanghai, but highlighted the country's establishment of a 'green route' for fruit and vegetables to speed up access with pre-application documentation.

"This means that the fruit arrives and already has all the documents to put it under inspection - they check all of this, and if they comply with Chinese requirements, then they can start the inspection," he said.

"In China the new inspection system is characterized by speed in four ways – speed in presenting applications, speed in inspection approval, speed in certification and speed in release.

"The time could be within 24 hours, but that’s one working day."

Frusan agronomist Gloria Vidal said the company aimed for the shortest time possible in transit due to the perishability of blueberries, but there were challenges ahead.

"I think the issue has a lot to do with the capacity of our clients to move fruit. Think that it's a new product in China, a product that Chinese consumers have to get to know, it has to please them and from there the issue is difficult still," she said.

"It's like with cherries. We have been growing rapidly with cherries but it's been the work of many years. It's not as if tomorrow we're going to say we have 200 containers - it's been a year-by-year job.

"Today a large proportion of berries go to the U.S., today the U.S. market is slightly depressed and we don't know what is going to happen with the economy. China on the other hand is still booming, will continue absorbing agricultural products and that's where our bet is strong."

Her comments were echoed by Frusan account manager Ignacio Vejar.

"While we don't know what the result of this could be, no one ventures to say whether this will be a success or not, but it is a good and new alternative," he said.

"This is a step - you have to know to listen to what the market will tell us, what our clients will tell us."

Chinese inspectors will remain in the South American country to get to know more about how the industry works.

Related story: Expectations and constraints for Chilean blueberries in Asia

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