China has a glut of local fruit, yet consumers aspire to imported products. How do you get around this? Why, you label local produce ‘foreign’, and no-one’s any the wiser. Tamara Vantroyen investigates the fake fruit scandal.
China’s apparently consuming passion for producing fake goods has spilled over even into the fruit sector. Although fake fruit hasn’t as yet shown up in fruit markets around the country, some fruit stall vendors, particularly in Beijing, are selling local fruits with the label “overseas fruit” on it. In fact, around 90% of fruit found on markets in Beijing claiming to be imported is actually locally grown. Blue Bridge Fruit market in Beijing, which specialises in imported fruit, is one market facing such problems.
The reason behind this is simple. Fruit from Taiwan is particularly popular in China and as soon as the fruit label “Made in Taiwan” is put on, the price soars – thus proving that the Chinese’s love for luxury and brand items has extended even to fruit. Imported fruit is often bought as holiday gifts at staggering cost although prices have dropped 20-30% since China joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001.
When you consider that China has a harvested area of fruits and vegetables equal to around 22 million hectares, three times the size of the harvested area the US has, and less than 1% of the country’s fruit and vegetable production is exported, it is easy to see why much of the locally grown fruit ends up on local markets. And it is also easy to see why it would be tempting to sell local fruit under the guise of imported fruit when wholesale prices for local fruit are only a tenth to a third of the price of fruit from other countries.
So why isn’t the government trying to put a stop to this? One reason is that unlike in other agricultural sectors, most notably the grains sector, there is little government intervention in the fruit and vegetable sector.
Wet markets hard to regulate
Another reason is that although China’s fruit and vegetable market combined is the largest sector in the country’s retail food market, most fruit sales still take place at wet markets in designated open areas or on streets. This makes it much harder to control what goods are being sold than if they were being sold in supermarket chains or other retail stores. Also, China suffers from a lack of a proper sales chain from farmer to market so very often the local farmers end up supplying the fruit directly to the end consumer
And yet there should be plenty of imported fruit available to find its way onto China’s fruit markets if we look at the amounts of fruit claiming to be “Made in Taiwan” sold on markets in China and if we look at measures the government is taking to encourage imports from Taiwan. On 23 May 2005 Beijing announced that 18 kinds of fruit from Taiwan could be sold on wholesale markets and supermarkets in China instead of the original 12 and on 1 June the Taiwan Affairs Office under China’s State Council announced zero-tariff treatment was to be given for 15 kinds of fruit from Taiwan – namely pineapples, lychees, papayas, star fruit, mangoes, guavas, wax apples, betel nuts, pomeloes, dates, coconuts, loquats, plums, peaches and persimmons.
This should go some way to increasing what has actually been a tiny official trade across the Taiwan straits. In 2004 fruit exports to China accounted for only 0.01% of Taiwan’s total agricultural exports or 629 metric tons, valued at US$340,000. Yet Chong-long Cai, director of Taiwan Province Fruit and Vegetable Business Association says Taiwan farmers are eager to sell fruit on the mainland, and clearly the demand is there. “Farmers in Central and Southern Taiwan have suffered a lot from overproduction of fruit but not enough sales channels,” says Chong.
As long as 70% of counterfeit goods continue to originate from China and given 89.4% of customers in China have purchased counterfeit goods, as statistics from China’s State General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine show, it looks as though it might take a bit of time before China’s “fake fruit” problem is solved. But liberalising the trade with Taiwan is at least a start,