USDA report forecasts grape and apple imports to decrease in 2023/24 due to domestic competition and supply shortages
China: Fresh Deciduous Fruit Annual report recently released by the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA) forecasts imports of apples and grapes will decrease in the 2023/24 season.
China’s imports of table grapes have been falling since MY 2019/20 (June-May) and the USDA expects numbers to decline by more than 30 per cent in MY 2023/24. The report attributes this significant drop to improved quality and an extended supply season for domestically produced grapes.
According to the USDA report, Chinese consumers still display strong demand for grape varieties from Southern Hemisphere countries during the off-season to local production, but some have switched their purchases of imported grapes to domestic counterparts.
Chinese growers have adopted more production facilities and technology, protecting crops against poor weather conditions, and improving fruit quality. As a result, the USDA expects China’s table grape production to continue to increase steadily.
However, improved bilateral relations with Australia could mean increased imports from the second largest grape supplier, the report notes.
Exports are also set to expand driven by improvements in fruit quality. After a brief decline amid Covid outbreaks in MY 2021/22, China’s grape exports rebounded in MY 2022/23.
Apple imports drop on reduced supplies
Imports of apples will also fall by 20 per cent to 76,000 tonnes in the 2023/24 season (July-June), the report predicts. However, this is mostly due to supply constraints facing leading import origins, New Zealand and South Africa. New Zealand produces a range of unique varieties that are popular among Chinese consumers, and it accounts for more than half of China’s apple imports. The country was affected by Cyclone Gabriel in February, significantly cutting apple production and export capacity.
Domestically, China’s top apple-producing provinces – Shandong, Shaanxi and Gansu – also experienced adverse weather conditions this season, including unsatisfactory temperatures, hail, and frost. Despite these setbacks, the report forecasts China’s apple production will increase by 3 per cent to 45m tonnes in the 2023/24 season as good harvests in other producing areas offset the losses. However, the challenging growing season led to an overall decrease in fruit quality including smaller fruit and occurrence of rust.
A shortage of high-quality fruit is also reported to have contributed to record high prices for domestic apples in China. Apple prices have remained high since the start of the 2022/23 season amid rising production costs and lower domestic supplies, according to the report. The China Fruit Marketing Association reported a record average price of Rmb 8.8 (US$1.24) per kg for second grade apples (8cm in diameter and above), marking an 18 per cent increase on the previous year.
Even with a decline in quality, exports to South Asia and South-East Asia are set to increase, driven by a preference for smaller apples in these markets. The report projects Chinese apple export to increase by 13 per cent to 880,000 tonnes in 2023/24. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal is also anticipated to improve infrastructure and expedite customs clearance procedures, increasing trade between China and South-East Asia.
Meanwhile, China’s pear imports are expected to continue rising, with the report projecting an increase of more than 20 per cent to 20,000 tonnes in MY 2023/24 (July-June). Chinese consumers mostly prefer juicy, crunchy Asian pears, the report notes, but interest in soft textured western pear varieties is on the rise, particularly among children and the elderly. Imports from Belgium and the Netherlands as well as from Southern Hemisphere countries such as Chile and South Africa have been rising steadily to meet this demand.
Pear exports are also set to rebound by 22 per cent to 500,000 tonnes in MY 2023/24, now that Covid restrictions have been lifted.