I recently returned from the Ontario Premier’s trade mission to both China and Vietnam. It was an excellent opportunity to take a close look for potential market opportunities in the two countries as well as to network with government officials, civil servants and other people in industry who were also part of the delegation.
There were three groups on the mission: one from science and technology, one from medical technology and the other, which I was part of, from agri-food. Each day the three delegations would split into separate meetings to hear more about the opportunities in the city we were attending, meet with potential trading partners and make some relevant site visits. In each case we heard about trade volume of the city, the population and the growth over the last number of years, projected GDP, population and growth for the coming years. At the beginning and end of each country there was also a reception which included some high-profile people from the host country.
China has an advanced emerging economy which presents some potential opportunities for Ontario producers. Growers of greenhouse cucumbers are leading the charge with the intent to be selling regular volumes into the Chinese market early next year. The hope is that, in time, tomatoes and peppers will also have access to the China market. China presents an opportunity to sell premium-quality products into a market where quality, flavour, food safety standards and Canadian image are highly valued. Vietnam has less market opportunity as its economy is not yet as vibrant as China’s. Perhaps in the future Vietnam will present some opportunity.
It may be worth pursuing the sale of some premium fruit crops as I received many questions from potential buyers and importers about the availability of fruits and vegetables from Canada. After touring some grocery stores, I believe that the products most in demand would be apples, peaches and pears. Other fruits with a significant volume of supply may also be worth considering. The Chinese buyers were sometimes very concerned about price which will be difficult for us to meet due to our premium production and transportation costs. For the high end market we may have just what they are looking for in their boutique grocery stores and markets. Products such as Ontario Honey Crisp and Ambrosia apples are potential candidates for the Chinese market. Apples are a good fit because they can be stored making sea freight journey of one month a real possibility. Other more perishable products such as tender fruit can be shipped by air freight which naturally comes at an additional cost.
If you are wondering how many of those Chinese people could possibly be interested in a high-cost product, there are some stats to consider. First, the population of China is approximately 1.4 billion with the population in some major cities exceeding the population of the province of Ontario. The Pearl River Delta in south eastern China has a population of 120 million people. If only one out of every thousand people can afford our products that is still a huge potential market for premium-quality, safe and nutritious Canadian produce. It is also certain that the Chinese consumers recognize the value of our produce grown with clean Ontario water, something we Ontarians take for granted.
Some of the products promoted on the mission include maple syrup, wine, ice wine, dried cherries, cherry juice, greenhouse cucumbers, greenhouse tomatoes, greenhouse peppers, ginseng, soy beans, baked goods, craft beer, apples, pears, and peaches. If production were available, there would be huge demand for fresh berries and cherries as well.
Access to the Chinese market is not a certainty and there are many challenges to overcome. Many products would need to be cleared for import into China as they manage bio-security and phyto-sanitary risk especially with respect to pests and disease. Logistics, importation and distribution also need to be considered once product enters China and naturally payment terms and an assurance that the seller will be paid in full.
The province of Ontario, the Premier’s Office and the Ministry of International Trade did an excellent job of organizing and executing the missions in both countries. Many meetings and tour buses and flights were organized in almost perfect timing. This was very well planned and a job well done by both political staff as well as the civil service.
I believe that China holds some opportunities for those who want to invest the time and money into exploring and developing the market for their products. What products and in what time frame I do not know but I certainly feel that there is potential in that area of the world to access a market that will appreciate the quality and flavour we pack into everything we grow.