China and member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are deepening their trade ties to make the most of rising demand for regional farm products like durian, a fruit whose popularity in China is soaring.
Signs of such demand were in evidence at the four-day China-ASEAN Expo or CAEXPO that concluded in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Tuesday.
Standing behind a refrigerator at the Malaysian pavilion, David Chen, a Malaysian exhibitor, busily wrapped a bagful of durian-flavored mooncakes for Xu Feng, a Chinese customer. Chen duly informed Xu of the storage method and the best-before date. Before their transaction ended, more visitors thronged the pavilion to buy fresh Musang King durian.
Xu said: "These mooncakes are priced at 25 yuan ($3.4) apiece. They taste so yummy I want to buy more."
Mostly grown in Malaysia and Thailand, durian has emerged as a prominent symbol of both the booming China-ASEAN cooperation and China's vast market potential.
The China market accounted for 91 percent of the world's demand for durian in the past two years, according to an HSBC report.
"During the CAEXPO, we sold seven cartons of durians. All the durian products we brought here were sold out. There were also expressions of interest from potential buyers in China," said Chen.
Sharon Yan, executive deputy general manager of Guangxi Mayi Imported Goods Supply Chain Management Co Ltd, a domestic exhibitor at the CAEXPO, said: "We brought seven durian varieties to the event. In the past, improving living standards and consumption upgrade in China had created an appetite for the delicious durian in spite of its smell.
"Consumption increased year after year, and now durian ranks among the top fruits with the highest import value in China. Its price, however, remains relatively high, giving it the tag of a luxury fruit. That's why we entered the durian business, hoping to reduce intermediary procurement processes and thereby the price."
The firm offers finance, Customs declaration, warehouse and logistics services for the durian supply chain. It established a 50,000-square-meter cold chain warehouse in the Qinzhou Port Area in China (Guangxi) Pilot Free Trade Zone, and a central kitchen in the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park, where durian is processed and made into byproducts.
The company's inspection teams travel to ASEAN member states regularly to enrich its durian import channels and stabilize the product quality and prices.
In 2022, Mayi imported 5,000 metric tons of durian and durian raw materials, with an import value of 400 million yuan, up 100 percent and 60 percent year-on-year, respectively.
In 2021, at the Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations, China announced that it planned to import $150 billion worth of farm products from ASEAN member states in the next five years.
That encouraged ASEAN member countries to strive to export more farm products with higher quality, including durian, coffee and palm oil.
Sharimahton Mat Saleh, deputy CEO of Malaysia External Trade Development Corp, said: "We have 107 Malaysian companies and nine government agencies taking part in this year's expo. We are pleased that our durian and durian-based products are received well by the Chinese market."
Wang Xiongchang, mayor of Qinzhou, said: "Qinzhou Port Area, which connects Guangxi and ASEAN, has initiated the construction of the Pinglu Canal project. Once completed, farm products from ASEAN can be shipped to Nanning, Chengdu, Sichuan province and other cities in China in a quicker and cheaper manner."