Cambodia exported 103,626.84 tonnes of fresh bananas in the first quarter of this year, down by 13.46 per cent compared to the corresponding period of 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported.
China and Vietnam imported 98,530.26 tonnes and 5,096.58 tonnes over the January-March period, respectively, the ministry said.
Agriculture minister Veng Sakhon largely ascribed the decline in shipments of the fruit abroad – from nearly 120,000 tonnes in January-March 2021 – to fresh restrictions placed by China on Cambodian bananas.
He told The Post on April 5 that Beijing imposed the trade sanction over claims that at least one consignment of Cambodian bananas arriving on Chinese shores had been found to be contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
It was not immediately clear since when the restrictions have been in effect, but Hun Lak, a veteran in the Cambodian agriculture arena, told The Post that it was most likely in “January-February”, during a surge in Covid-19 cases recorded in China driven by the Omicron variant.
Sakhon added that both the ministry and the exporters have since stepped up vigilance, and that Beijing was conducting more meticulous inspections at ports of entry and had issued a set of recommendations on pre-shipment packaging.
The minister said the Covid-19 crisis had devastated the freight transport industry, especially the marine segment, driving the cost of shipping refrigerated containers to China from an average pre-pandemic sum of $2,500 to the current $7,000.
“This has led some companies to drop the business and decline to export again due to the uncertainty of future profits,” he said.
According to the minister, exports of other fresh fruits such as mangoes have also been kneecapped by similar issues.
And Lak, who is the CEO of Tropicam Fruit and Vegetable Co Ltd, also affirmed that shipping costs are exorbitant, driven up by international oil prices that have been especially volatile in the past few weeks amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which he said has also made chartering a cargo ship all the more difficult.
The recent Covid wave in China has disrupted agricultural exports to the country, and fresh bananas are especially vulnerable, he said, adding that the more stringent preventive measures have triggered logjams at ports of entry causing huge numbers of containers to be stranded, most notably along the Sino-Vietnamese border.
“Exports of fresh bananas as well as other agricultural products to other countries seem to be stagnant due to the restrictions in China and the fact that Vietnam still has a large number of Covid-19 outbreaks, which has led to limited demand for imports and exports at ports, especially in China. The issue of rising oil prices has also hurt exports of fresh bananas,” Lak said.
With the Chinese fruit harvest season next month drawing near, the country may hold off on imports in the period ahead, which means road bumps for exports of fresh Cambodian bananas, he conjectured.
The agriculture ministry reported that last year, Cambodia exported 423,168.97 tonnes of fresh bananas, up by more than 27 per cent. China was the top buyer at 376,961.60 tonnes, followed by Vietnam (45,193.37 tonnes), Japan (533.52 tonnes) and Singapore (480.48 tonnes).