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Thailand Seizes Unripe Durians Bound for China
Thai authorities have in recent weeks been cracking down on the premature harvesting and distribution of durians, partly in an effort to protect the reputation of the fruit in its key export market of China, according to Thai media reports. The campaign has taken the form of official proclamations and warehouse inspections in Chanthaburi and Chumphon provinces involving the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and local police forces.
An April 4 inspection in Chanthaburi’s Noen Soong subdistrict resulted in the impoundment of 50 tons of durians at a Chinese-owned export warehouse, according to the Thai Public Broadcasting Service. Another raid in Chanthaburi in March saw 200 kilograms of unripe durians seized and a trader facing legal action, which can include fines ranging from 60,000 to 200,000 Thai baht ($1,800–6,000) depending on which statute the offender is prosecuted under and whether he or she is a repeat offender.
Thailand’s main durian harvest starts ramping up in March and peaks in mid-May and June. Prices run highest in the early part of the season while harvest volumes are still low, which provides an incentive for unscrupulous farmers and traders to harvest and distribute the pungent “king of fruits” before it has reached an appropriate stage of ripeness. The receipt of unripe durians is reportedly an ongoing source of complaints from Chinese buyers, which has perhaps been one reason behind the crackdown by Thai authorities.
China is Thailand’s largest durian export market and durians are China’s biggest fresh fruit import by both volume and value. Although some shipments of Thai durians have tested positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in the midst of China’s strict anti-pandemic controls, the Thai durian industry has taken steps to remediate the issue and exports have surged over recent years. In 2021, China imported an astonishing 822,000 tons of fresh durians worth $4.21 billion from Thailand, a year-on-year growth in value of 82.4%.
Thai government export promotion programs have invested substantially over the years to promote durians on the Chinese market, for example by running co-promotions and staging livestreams with Alibaba’s Tmall Fresh e-commerce platform. The Monthong (meaning “golden pillow” in Thai) variety has achieved widespread name recognition in China, where it is practically synonymous with Thai durians.
Thailand is for now the only country approved to export fresh durians to China, although Cambodia and Vietnam are also pursuing market access. China also has relatively limited domestic durian output from production bases on the tropical southern island province of Hainan. In addition to eating fresh durians directly, Chinese aficionados also enjoy the fruit in a variety of food service applications such as durian cheesecake and durian pizza. These applications benefit from additional import supply from Malaysia, which is permitted to export frozen, but not fresh, durians to China.
The first rail shipment of fresh Thai durians to China on the new China–Laos railway recently opened up the fastest non-air method of transporting the fruit to consumers in China.
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