Vietnam fruits lose ground to Thai imports even as ASEAN threat looms

By Dinh Tuyen, Thanh Nien News

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A fruit shop in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho. Photo: Dinh Tuyen A fruit shop in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho. Photo: Dinh Tuyen


Bui Hoang Anh, who runs a fruit shop on Hai Ba Trung Street in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho, says these days he imports large volumes of langsat, tamarind, durian, and mango from Thailand thanks to high demand.
He told Thanh Nien: “Our (Vietnamese) langsat is smaller than the Thai one but its seeds are bigger. In addition, it is quite sour while Thai langsat is sweet.
“So consumers prefer Thai langsat though it costs VND50,000 (US$2.2) per kilogram or three times the price of the local one.”
Be, who has a shop on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, also said she predominantly sells Thai fruits.
“Many customers buy Thai mangosteen in cartons as a gift for relatives and friends.”
Thai mangosteen is less prone to gamboges disorder, a physical damage in the fruit pericarp, than those in Vietnam, according to Nguyen Van Hoa, director of the Southern Horticultural Research Institute.
Be said Vietnamese consumers do not prefer local fruits not only because they are of lower quality but also because they are notorious for being treated with chemicals.
Thailand is now the largest exporter of vegetables and fruits to Vietnam after surpassing China early last year.
Official statistics show that Vietnam spent nearly US$135 million to import Thai vegetables and fruits in the first eight months of this year.
Economist Le Dang Doanh warned that Vietnamese farm produce would face fiercer competition from other countries in the region when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is born at the end of this year.
“The pressure [on local produce] would be much higher when imports from other ASEAN countries to Vietnam become tax-free starting January 1, 2016 [thanks to the AEC],” Doanh said at a forum held in Can Tho city on October 1-2.
But local farmers seem unprepared for the regional integration.
Nguyen Thanh Tam, who owns a one-hectare mangosteen and durian farm in Xuan Hoa Commune in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang, said he had no idea about the AEC or the fact that his produce would face more competition from neighboring countries next year.
Ho Viet Hiep, deputy chairman of the people’s committee of the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, said this makes sense.
“We are very passive and have no specific strategy. Even provincial leaders do not know much about the regional integration due to the lack of information from the central government.”
Hoa of the Southern Horticultural Research Institute told Phap Luat TP.HCM (HCMC Law) newspaper that the country needs to set up fruit cooperatives and areas by bringing together farmers and invest in processing and preservation technologies to improve quality and produce stable quantities of fruits.
Doanh said, “It’s urgent to restructure [the agricultural sector], switching to farming on large fields, turning farmers into trained and skilled agricultural workers.”

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