Rampant illegal fruit imports fly in face of poor domestic produce
MARK O'NEILL in Beijing
The government is reportedly losing billions of yuan as up to three million tonnes of fruit are smuggled into the mainland every year, more than three times the legal imports.
Since 1993, the mainland has been the world's biggest fruit producer, with output last year of 54.9 million tonnes, or 12 per cent of global output, the Economic Daily said yesterday.
But farmers cannot satisfy the high end of the market for urban consumers, who demand quality, looks and exoticism and are willing to pay up to five times the price for local fruit.
To meet demand and avoid customs duties of up to 40 per cent, Hong Kong and Macau are the conduits for millions of tonnes of illegal imports against legal imports of about 600,000 tonnes, the newspaper said.
Earlier this year, Shenzhen officials visited a key market and found fruit from 15 countries, including Australia, Chile, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and the United States, although imports are permitted only from Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Economic Daily estimated that the government lost more than two billion yuan (about HK$1.86 billion) annually in tax revenue because of the smuggling.
This loss was blamed in part on the inability of mainland farmers to meet market demand, with overproduction of apples, oranges, pears and bananas and insufficient growing of high-quality strains.
This overproduction and smuggling have caused the average prices of fruit to drop since controls were lifted in 1984, leading to excess stocks and farmers being unable to sell their crops. Many switched to fruit as more profitable than grain.
The smuggling also carries with it a serious health risk.
Since the Guangzhou quarantine bureau in June 1993 first detected Mediterranean fruit fly in imported fruit, six more findings of this pest and others have been made, the newspaper said.
The mainland has difficulty exporting its fruit surplus on to the world market.
Exports last year, mainly to Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, were 660,000 tonnes, down 3.5 per cent on 1997, accounting for 1.2 per cent of domestic production and 2 per cent of world fruit trade.