Canada: BC Blueberry Council reveals high expectations for China
Chinese market access for British Columbia's blueberries may have just been announced, but an industry head says some airfrieght shipments will almost certainly leave this season and expects huge export volumes in the future.
Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast earlier this week announced the deal, anticipated to be worth CAD$65 million (US$52.5 million) annually to one of the country's most valuable export crops.
"It's been a lot of work!" B.C. Blueberry Council executive director Debbie Etsell told www.freshfruitportal.com.
Chinese inspectors will visit the province this summer, and while Etsell said a date had not yet been confirmed, she hoped it would be in July as the harvest had started 14 days early due to a mild winter.
"We see it much paralleling the deal that they did with the cherries - that we would ship some this year and if all goes well with the inspections in the facilities and the fields then there would be more volume going the next year," Etsell said, referring to the market access for cherry shippers announced this time last year.
"With cherries they did it only when inspectors were here, and they stayed three or four weeks. They're not planning on staying that long this summer so they will decide if they trust the CFIA [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] to continue monitoring the shipments going to China."
She added given the substantial demand for the fruit, it would not be necessary to 'piggyback' on cherry shippers' partnerships in China, but there was of course a 'broad spectrum' of fruit buyers looking at blueberries so some would inevitably want both.
"What's happening right now is because we have about 29 suppliers that sell our fruit, when requests come in for fruit we’re sharing that with all of our suppliers," Etsell said.
"Because of this there have already been some relationships that have been built, and if the fields are approved they will ship to them. So it is an open market, but as a council we will try and facilitate some of the requests going out through us to the suppliers.
"With the volumes that could possibly go to China, not all of our suppliers can meet that demand, so it depends on what they want and how much they want."
In terms of what varieties would potentially best suited to the Chinese market, Etsell said the Canadian province had numerous cultivars that were performing well and could be strong candidates for shipments later this season.
"Here in B.C., Duke and Bluecrop are usually pretty big and sweet, and some of our later varieties like like Draper, Aurora and Liberty are also coming along that way," she said.
"This year especially when we have heat units like we've had the Elliott gets quite sweet as well. So we’re pretty much positioned where we can send any variety to China."
Given the point in the season when the first shipments could leave for the Asian market this year, Etsell believed airfrieght would be the preferred method of transit, but many exporters would be able to ship using containers in the future.
Furthermore, the deal involves being able to ship to 'quite a few' Chinese ports, so shippers would not be limited to one or two destinations.
A 'Complement' to local supply
In terms of potential competition with local supply in China, Etsell did not foresee any problems given the timings of each country's harvest.
"We’ve been working quite a bit with the local production and ours would come after the majority of theirs is done, so we see it as a complement rather than competition," she said.
As far as long-term expectations for the market go, expectations are high. Etsell estimated the industry could do 'anywhere from 20-50 million pounds with China'. That upper figure would constitute about a third of total volumes produced in 2014.
"It’ll grow in years. We’ve watched other commodities go into China, and you don't go in all out. I anticipate that we could do 50 million pounds there eventually," she said.
As if inspectors from one major Asian market visiting this summer wasn't enough, officials from South Korea are also due to arrive in the first week of July.
"It’s a busy summer for us," Etsell said, adding the situation with Korea was different in that fruit would not be able to leave while the inspectors were in Canada as they needed to post their findings on return for a period of 20 days.