In the Jingkelong supermarket in northeast Beijing, plump apples from Japan and the United States, grapefruit from Australia and bananas from Ecuador crowd the fruit counter, next to smaller red apples from Shaanxi and oranges from Zhejiang. 'The prices of foreign fruit have fallen since December and more people are buying,' said Liang Mei, a middle-aged woman irritated at working during the Lunar New Year holiday. 'Many buy the foreign fruit as a present for the holiday. They consider it chic.' Apple farmers in Japan and the US have the World Trade Organisation to thank for their improved sales. Under the deal signed in Doha last November, Beijing agreed to cut import tariffs on farm produce 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 ready to pay a premium price for foreign fruit. The lower tariffs have set off a price war in the cities of Guangdong, China's richest province, the China Business Times said. In Dongguan, imported red apples sell for eight yuan (about HK$7.49) per kilogram, forcing the producers of Fuji apples in Yantai, one of China's top growing areas, to cut their prices to four yuan. A kilogram of Sunkist oranges from the US costs eight yuan to 10 yuan, against five yuan to six yuan for a kilo of oranges from Guangdong or Jiangxi. Domestic producers have improved their packaging and presentation and cut prices to retain a margin with the imported fruit, the newspaper said. In Tianjin, Sichuan oranges were still half the price of imported ones, despite the tariff cut. Customers said they bought on the basis of taste and price, not where the fruit came from. Even the markets of Nanning, capital of Guangxi, are full of US, Thai and Vietnamese fruit, most of it imported through Guangzhou. The Workers Daily said prices of foreign fruit in Shanghai had not fallen because demand was at its strongest before the Lunar New Year holiday and the city had warehouses with stocks of 30,000 tonnes. It said once the holiday period was over and demand slackened, their prices would fall. In some markets that serve a middle-class clientele, foreign fruit accounts for almost 20 per cent of sales. China is eager to take the battle with foreign fruit into overseas markets, but still has much to do. According to official figures, it is the world's No 1 fruit producer, with annual output of 50 million tonnes, but exports only 160,000 tonnes, 3 per cent of the global fruit trade. Chinese specialists say this is due to heavy use of pesticides by farmers on small plots who want quantity rather than quality. Farmers lack knowledge of the latest techniques and produce fruit that is often uneven in size and colour. China should be able to export one million tonnes of fruit, the specialists say.