South African table grape industry (SATI) spokespeople have hailed the re-opening of the Thai market as a significant step in further diversifying the international market for the fruit, after a new export protocol was signed in Bangkok.
“This is good news for the South African table grape industry, which shows healthy production growth in new generation and market driven varieties,” says Willem Bestbier, chief executive of SATI. “This is a significant step in realising the primary strategic objective to increase and diversify markets access. Currently more than 80 per cent of the country's table grapes are marketed in Europe and the UK.”
Bestbier notes that it is vital for the table grape industry to develop other markets in order to avoid over-reliance on individual markets and sectors. The South East Asian markets have been identified as a target as the consumption of fruit is an important part of their culture, and they have large, economically active populations and growing economies.
Thailand was previously open to South African grape exports, but unexpectedly closed just over eight years ago. As a result of ongoing efforts by a team consisting of DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries), SA Embassy in Thailand and SATI, this market has once again become available to South African growers.
This is good news for the South African table grape industry which shows healthy production growth in new generation and market driven varieties.
According to Bestbier the Thai market for South African table grapes was quite significant and growing steadily before its unexpected closure.
“There is great excitement amongst South African growers and exporters to seize this new opportunity and growers in the later production areas of the Berg River and Hex River Valleys, who are currently picking and packing, are keen to supply this exciting new market within days," he says.
“The reopening of the market in Thailand is an important achievement for the South African Table Grape Industry and this has been made possible through the ongoing proactive and co-operative efforts of Government, SATI and the private sector. This process has also certainly proved the value of Fruit South Africa to our market access endeavours,” adds SATI Chairman Michael Laubscher. “The train of events that led to the closing of this market as well as the time and efforts it took to reverse this situation have again highlighted the importance of continuously engaging with the various markets to ensure that our industry complies with all the market access requirements.”
The original closure of the Thai market for South African grapes caused controversy in the South African industry and in government circles, and has generally been blamed on a slow response to Thai government requests for an updated protocol.
In South Africa’s late table grape growing region, producers have welcomed the move and it is expected that they will act quickly to take advantage of the opening during the rest of the season.
“The reopening of the Thailand market is good news for producers as it provides them with a broader choice of market destinations and will relieve some of the market pressure on our traditional markets,” says Anton Viljoen, chairman of the Hex River Table Grape Producers’ Association. “This also makes South African producers more competitive within the international marketing arena. Producers who are currently harvesting and packing will most certainly be making use of the opportunity during the remainder of our harvest.”
The move is also expected to bring further confidence and stability for the table grape industry. This could have positive consequences for the domestic economy as table grape production is a highly labour intensive practice and creates many jobs within the agricultural sector. This job creation in turn also adds to rural development and, because approximately 95 per cent of table grapes are exported, it is a valuable source of foreign revenue for South Africa.