Logistical hurdles pose challenges for Malaysia's fresh durian exports to China

By Minh Hieu   June 27, 2024 | 08:33 pm PT
Logistical hurdles pose challenges for Malaysia's fresh durian exports to China
A worker looks at durians for sale at a shop in Kuala Lumpur on July 8, 2020. Photo by AFP
Malaysia has received approval to export fresh durians to China, but industry experts worry that the trade may face logistical challenges.

The approval for importing the fruit follows Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s visit to Malaysia from June 18-20.

China's demand for durian has significantly increased in recent years, with consumers willing to pay premium prices for Malaysia’s renowned Musang King variety and showing a growing preference for durian-flavored confectionery.

A durian exporter in Kuala Lumpur stated that preparations are underway to ship fresh durians, but logistical challenges remain a significant concern.

According to The Straits Times, local farmers typically wait for durians to fully ripen before harvesting, which leaves the fruit with only a three-day shelf life.

Yet transporting the fruit by air will take at least 36 hours, according to Anna Teo, director of exporter Hernan Corp.

Concurring with this, Sam Tan, executive director of durian supplier MAPC and president of the Malaysia Durian Exporters Association, added that due to its pungent smell, the spiky fruit can only be transported via cargo flights, which are not available daily.

"This limitation requires significant coordination with the transport, Customs and agriculture departments to prevent delays that could spoil the durians," he told Malaysian newspaper The Star.

"We need a multi-ministry task force to address any possible teething issues and ad-hoc problems related to transport and Customs clearance."

Fierce price competition from Thailand and Vietnam, China’s two largest suppliers of fresh durians, can also pose huge challenges, a Kuala Lumpur-based durian exporter said.

Before Malaysia was allowed to ship the pungent fruit fresh to China under a phytosanitary protocol signed last week, it could only export durians as pulp, paste, and frozen whole fruit.

So far, over 30 small and medium durian farmers and exporters in the country have signed up with the Malaysian Agriculture and Food Security Ministry to export fresh durians, with more expected to register, according to Tan.

The ministry has issued updated procedures on durian quality control for businesses and is expected to soon submit the list of exporters to China’s Customs Administration, he noted.

"Primary beneficiaries of these fresh durians will be first-tier cities in China – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen," he said, explaining that these places have better logistic connectivity to receive fresh durians.

Consumers there also have more spending power for the premium fruit, he added.

Malaysia began selling durian pulp and paste to China in 2011 and frozen durian whole fruits in 2018. Last year, Malaysia exported RM1.19 billion (US$252.2 million) worth of durian to China, making the country its key market.

However, it only accounted for less than 2% of that market’s total durian imports, according to Eric Chan, president of the Durian Manufacturer Association.

"Allowing fresh durian exports could potentially double or triple Malaysia’s export volume, offering a significant opportunity in China’s niche market," he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Agriculture and Food Security Minister Datuk Seri Mohamad Sabu expected durian exports to China to surge to RM1.8 billion in value by 2030.

"This protocol will boost the local durian industry and increase agro-food export value," he said in a statement quoted by the Malay Mail.

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