Pailin longan is expected to be the third Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to the Chinese market after bananas and mangoes, according to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon.
Longan – also known by the botanical name Dimocarpus longan – is a tropical evergreen tree species native to Asia that produces edible fruit. And according to the minister, in Cambodia the fruit is mostly grown in Pailin and Battambang provinces and parts of Preah Vihear province.
On May 7, the Kingdom shipped 100 tonnes of fresh Keo Romiet mangoes to China in its inaugural direct export, nearly two years after the two countries signed a protocol on phytosanitary requirements on June 9, 2019, which paved the way for the export of fresh batches of the fruit.
Cambodia's yellow banana sales to China have also increased rapidly since the first shipment of the fruit was sent in mid-2019, not long after the East Asian country greenlit direct exports.
As the ministry's director-general for Agriculture Ngin Chhay previously told The Post, Chinese authorities only consider a single product per country at a time to import.
Sakhon told The Post on May 11 that after the maiden shipment of fresh Cambodian mangoes, the Kingdom will formally propose Pailin longan as the next fruit to export to China, so that Beijing can determine eligibility for import.
Grown in provinces bordering Thailand, Pailin longan has huge potential for export, the minister said, adding that Chinese approval would greatly boost Cambodia's economic growth and create new jobs, in much the same way as with bananas and mangoes.
"After achieving mango exports, we also reiterated our request to the Chinese side to have a look at Pailin longan," he said.
Cautious not to be overly persistent, Sakhon noted that the Chinese side has said it needs time to examine phytosanitary conditions of fruits to be imported, especially when it comes to harmful organisms that could pose health risks.
"So from now on, we will start shifting attention to the export of Pailin longan right away," he said.
According to the minister, Cambodia could earn an additional $200 million per year through official direct exports of Pailin longan to China.
In late March, the Ministry of Commerce sent a letter to the agriculture ministry requesting it to oil the wheels towards talks with the Chinese side on a protocol of phytosanitary requirements for the export of fresh and processed Cambodian Pailin Longan to China.
This comes after producers and suppliers submitted a joint petition to the commerce ministry asking the government to consider pushing for direct shipments of the fruit to China, citing shrinking indirect exports through neighbouring countries – due to Covid-19 restrictions – that have driven prices below productions costs, overwhelming farmers and traders with huge losses, according to the letter.
"In these difficult circumstances, the Ministry of Commerce would like to cooperate with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and urge the Chinese side to expedite negotiations on a protocol and proposed documents by requesting intervention from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Cambodia in China,” it read.
Unlike its commerce counterpart, the agriculture ministry does not have representatives at the embassy, Sakhon noted, saying he requested commerce ministry representatives working at the embassy to step up efforts to strengthen relations with the Chinese side and report back to the Kingdom.
He said the ministry has sent the relevant documents to the Chinese side and is awaiting response.
Pailin Longan Agricultural Production Cooperative president Suos Siyat said the inability to directly export to China has long posed a barrier to raising incomes for growers and stood in the way of their plans to expand cultivation.
Even with Pailin province serving as a commerce hub on the border with Thailand for traders and local exporters, growers remain riddled with financial woes, he said.
"China is a big market and there is a lot of demand. If we could export directly, it'd be possible to get better prices than we have now and cultivation would also increase in suit," he said.
As of end-2020, Pailin longan was grown on about 14,500ha in the Kingdom, of which 11,500ha is harvested, according to Sakhon. Production last year was about 20 million tonnes, of which 102,000 tonnes worth nearly $100 million were exported, he said.