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Vietnam Has High Hopes for Increasing Food Exports to China

FILE - A reproduction of a durian sits atop packages of durian cakes from Vietnam at a "Belt and Road Products New Year's Marketplace" at a shopping mall in Beijing, Jan. 10, 2020.
FILE - A reproduction of a durian sits atop packages of durian cakes from Vietnam at a "Belt and Road Products New Year's Marketplace" at a shopping mall in Beijing, Jan. 10, 2020.

Vietnam expects to increase its agricultural exports to China this year as the two countries have agreed to review regulations opening the market to greater quantities of poultry, fish and fruits.

Pham Thi Huan, the founder of Ba Huan Corp. in Ho Chi Minh City, one of Vietnam’s largest poultry and egg suppliers, said she would welcome greater access to China’s market of 1.4 billion consumers.

“My company has not exported chicken meat or eggs into China mainland. Lifting this ban will open doors to my company and many Vietnamese livestock farmers,” Pham told VOA Vietnamese by phone February 21.

In 2023, livestock products accounted for only 1% of the $12.2 billion in agricultural, forestry and aquatic products exported to China, according to the official news outlet Vietnam Plus. Exports of milk and milk products account for 93% of the total export value of Vietnam's livestock products to China, according to the minister of agriculture and rural development.

Tran Thanh Nam, Vietnam's deputy minister of agriculture and rural development, announced after his five-day trip to China last month that China had agreed to consider lifting the ban on poultry imports from Vietnam, the official Vietnam News and Vietnam Agriculture reported on January 31.

High demand for meat

Nam said that China’s consumer demand for meat products is worth about $400 billion annually, and there is great potential for exporting meat from Vietnam, China’s Xinhua reported.

Nam’s working trip to Beijing and Guangzhou January 14-20 was aimed at boosting the two nations’ cooperation in farm produce import and export activities, he said.

On January 16, Nam had separate meetings with Ma Youxiang, China’s vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs, and Zhao Zenglian, deputy chief of the General Administration of Customs, to request that China open its market to Vietnamese products.

China’s General Administration of Customs has agreed to a prompt completion of the documentation to sign three protocols, Nam said.

These would cover the export of sustainably caught seafood, the export of farmed crocodiles, and the export of monkeys raised for scientific research from Vietnam to China, according to the website of Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Also, the two nations reached a consensus on reopening China to Vietnam’s tropical rock lobsters, Nam said, adding that China is considering importing Vietnamese avocados and passion fruit as well.

“Nam’s business trip [to] China will help flourish fruit, vegetable exports to China in 2024,” Dang Phuc Nguyen, general secretary of the Vietnam Fruit and Vegetable Association, who accompanied Nam to China, told VOA Vietnamese by phone on February 21.

Active partners

Vietnam has been China's largest trading partner among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations since 2016, with bilateral trade accounting for 25% of China's total trade with the 10-member regional bloc in the first 11 months of 2023, according to China’s General Administration of Customs.

The two neighboring countries have “large space for cooperation in the agricultural sector,” Xinhua reported on December 13.

In the first 11 months of 2023, China imported 44.62 billion yuan or more than $6.2 billion worth of Vietnamese agricultural products, marking a year-on-year increase of 20.3%, according to the Xinhua report.

In 2023, Vietnam’s livestock products constituted only 1% of the total agricultural, forestry and fishery export value to China, amounting to $12.2 billion, according to the International Trade Council.

The ITC said this modest share was primarily attributed to Vietnam's lack of official authorization for meat product exports to China, referring to China’s Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)-related import bans.

For many years, many of Vietnam's livestock products, including pork, beef, chicken and buffalo meat, have been subject to unofficial quotas at border crossings, also according to the ITC, which has 179 member nations. These products have encountered assorted border-related obstacles, as well as heightened scrutiny and stricter control standards, according to the ITC.

China is the biggest import market for Vietnam’s fruit, with the import turnover reaching $3.7 billion in 2023, up nearly 250% in value and 65% in market share compared with 2022, Vietnam media reported.

Vietnam has 14 types of fruits and agricultural products officially licensed to enter China - dragon fruit, watermelon, banana, lychee, longan, rambutan, jackfruit, mango, mangosteen, durian and passion fruit, plus black jelly, sweet potato and bird’s nest - according to the official Vietnam Economy website and Voice of Vietnam.

The watermelon agreement was signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Vietnam last December, in addition to five others, which had been included in previous protocols: mangosteen, black jelly, durian, banana and sweet potato.

Dang said that the Chinese market is ripe for Vietnamese fruits and vegetables. He added that Chinese consumers favor Vietnamese durian products. If an agreement allowing export of frozen durian is signed, he estimates that the Chinese market “for fresh and frozen durian will bring in about $3.5 billion” to Vietnam.