This year’s South African apple export season started amidst some uncertainty as to how the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak will influence international trade.

What is certain though, is that there has been a strong West-East trade shift over the past two decades with around 70% of the annual apple crop destined for the Far East, South East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Market access

Over the past 15 years, South Africa has gradually increased its marketing position in the East and is continuing to work to gain better market access in the region, says Jacques du Preez, general manager of trade and marketing at Hortgro. “In China, in particular, we have seen increased interest and demand since gaining access for apples a few years ago. Although it is from a low base, our sales in China have grown fairly rapidly.”

He says increased sales in the East are spearheaded by the Gala, Pink Lady and Fuji cultivars. “South Africa grows and packs fruit of excellent quality and taste, and we have distinguished ourselves in this regard. Backed by new varieties that increasingly deliver on this promise, the future looks pretty rosy.”

Long-term effects

According to Du Preez events around COVID-19 is causing uncertainty, but he says it does not affect South Africa’s views on the long-term prospects in the markets of Asia and South East Asia. “It is still early in our new season, and we are confident that these uncertainties will eventually be cleared up to pave the way for a good season.”

Progress has also been made in other countries in the region, particularly Malaysia and Bangladesh. South Africa is also keen to get back into Thailand, which has been closed for some years.

With excellent growing conditions this year, South African growers are anticipating an increased apple export crop. Experts forecast apple exports at 35,7 million 12,5kg equivalent cartons, which represents an increase of 6% compared to last year.

“This includes increased volumes of Royal Gala, now the second-biggest South African apple category, Fuji and Pink Lady,” says Du Preez.

Pear imports have been halted

The imminent entry of pears into China has also been halted due to the virus outbreak. The signing of the protocols would have taken place in March but has now been delayed. The hope remains that pear exports will start as soon as the formalities are out of the way.

But China is not the only Asian market that is hungry for South African pome fruit. In recent times South Africa’s Forelle pears have shown significant growth in India, followed by Indonesia and Malaysia. Last year, South African exporters sold 1,1 million cartons of Forelle pears in India.

“It has always been the aim of the South African industry to deliver a range of blushed pears and to conclude our season with Forelle, which is the flagship at this stage. Cheeky, Rosemarie and Flamingo will open the season, and there are other blushed varieties such as Celina that may play a role in the future. For the immediate future, Forelle will dominate the blush pear offering.”

South Africa’s pear export crop is expected to be slightly down on last year, but this will not affect market supply. – Elise-Marie Steenkamp, Hortgro