'Breakthrough' for South African table grapes as China relaxes protocols
China has relaxed its cold treatment protocols for South African table grapes, in what has been described as 'one of the biggest breakthroughs since deregulation in agriculture'.
Grower body South African Table Grape Industry (SATI) said the development created a market opportunity to increase exports to China to about R2,5 billion (US$184 million) over the next five years.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) said China’s cold treatment protocol was immediately effective from the 2016-17 season.
The new protocol has changed from -0.6°C for 22 days to +0.8°C for a minimum of 20 days. SATI said the previous protocol held 'unaffordable risks in the form of cold related damage to grape berries and stems.'
The organization's chairperson Michael Laubscher described this opportunity as a 'big milestone'.
"This will make China more accessible for South African producers and make our produce more competitive," he said.
"SATI believes this breakthrough will enable producers and exporters to realise the enormous potential in China. We hereby acknowledge DAFF and all the other role players who enabled us to achieve this breakthrough."
Meanwhile, SATI CEO Willem Bestbier said the development was made possible through 'an extraordinary and applied research project' that SATI commissioned in January 2015 with Dr Tony Ware as researcher.
"Supported by these research results experts in DAFF led by Alice Baxter and her team as well as support from SATI ensured the protocol was changed in record time," he said.
According to an economic study on the Chinese table grape market, conducted by Dr Hoppie Nel in 2014, the estimated loss of income for South Africa was R214 million (US$16 million) due to the loss of quality, market share and the price difference caused by the previous cold treatment protocol.
China - with imports of table grapes worth nearly US$600 million in 2014 – is the fifth-largest import market and shows the biggest growth at 30% annually over the past five years, according to SATI.
The group also highlighted the premium price the Chinese market paid for imported grapes.
Although South Africa was the fourth-largest exporter of table grapes to China in 2014 with 10,000 metric tons (MT) - rising 600MT the following year - SATI said the protocol prevented ' any significant increase'.
It said Peru and Chile exported a combined 150,000MT to China in 2014, mainly due to these countries receiving lower import tariffs and less stringent cold treatment protocols than South Africa.
The new protocol is also expected to lead to new vineyards being established in the country.