Orange growers feel squeezed by imports

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 March, 2002, 12:00am

When NPC delegate Zhong Balian walked from her hotel in Beijing to a nearby market, she was enraged to find a stall loaded with Australian oranges, at 73 yuan (HK$67) per kilogram and a saleswoman saying how delicious they were.

'Our oranges are cheaper and more delicious than those,' Ms Zhong said. 'But our prices are low and our farmers toil throughout the year and earn almost nothing.'

Ms Zhong is a delegate from Ganzhou, a minority area of Jiangxi province that has been designated by the state as a priority area for sweet oranges. They are grown on 265,000 hectares with an annual harvest of just below one million tonnes.

China's entry into the World Trade Organisation in December has intensified competition for China's fruit growers.

Under the deal it signed in Doha, Beijing agreed to cut import tariffs on farm products from an average of 22 per cent to 17.5 per cent, with reductions from an average of 31 per cent to 14 per cent on grapes, oranges, apples, cherries, almonds and other 'priority' agricultural items.

The biggest impact has been in large cities with a substantial middle class that is ready to pay a premium price for the taste, appearance and status of foreign fruit, which is often used as a gift.

The lower tariffs have set off a price war in many cities and a debate among NPC delegates about how Chinese fruit can compete with the imports.

Hunan delegate Du Yuanming, head of the Agriculture Work Bureau of the provincial Communist Party, said that following WTO entry, the challenges for China's farm products outnumbered opportunities.

Ms Zhong said that during a visit to the US last year, she found that the Ganzhou sweet oranges had a juice content of 13 per cent, against 12 per cent for US ones.

But US orange growers enjoyed many advantages unavailable to their counterparts in Ganzhou, with development of new and better seeds, technical support and sales and marketing.