by Cristobal Chavez Bravo
SAN FERNANDO, Chile, July 11 (Xinhua) -- Chilean fruit growers recently celebrated the country's first shipment to China of four kinds of pears they hope will win over local consumers.
"This is a very significant milestone for the Chilean fruit growing sector," Chilean Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker told reporters on a tour to the Frusan Processing Plant in San Fernando in the O'Higgins region, some 140 km south of the capital Santiago.
Harvested pears are transported in giant crates to plants like Frusan to be cleaned and refrigerated in separate batches depending on their destination market, plant operators said.
Chile offers distributors crates of different sizes ranging from holding 2 kg of fruit, used exclusively for the Chinese market, to 18 kg.
Pears bound for China are shipped by sea, and it takes some 30 days to arrive under normal conditions.
Chilean producers told Xinhua on the tour that they plan to carry out a study on the Chinese market to determine which pears are the most popular, and increase the supply accordingly.
According to Horacio Borquez, director of Chile's Agriculture and Cattle Ranching Service (SAG), Chile has very few diseases subject to quarantine restrictions.
"What we do on a permanent basis is to continue to ensure that this (a disease) does not occur, and put ourselves at the service of countries and give them peace of mind and assurance," Borquez said.
"It's necessary to have very good risk analysis so we can ensure we don't have diseases that China doesn't have, and that these fruits are clean," he added.
During the tour, Chilean and Chinese officials observed the controls in place over Chile's fruit exports, from size and color analysis to the sanitary inspections carried out by experts.
Zhou Yi, political attache at the Chinese Embassy in Chile, said "you can see Chilean pears are of very high quality. Chinese consumers are going to love them."
"Pear exportation is a symbol of (Chile's) fruit exports to China, and the Chilean pear is going to become a new national calling card for Chile in the Chinese market, along with cherries, cranberries and Chilean wine, all of which are very famous in China," the diplomat said.
While Chile and China are far apart, the two countries have "maintained a longstanding friendship," noted Zhou.
"Since we both advocate free trade and multilateralism, we hope that this cooperation will be much more fruitful and bring bigger benefits for the two peoples," Zhou added.
The shipment of pears marked the successful completion of a lengthy but essential procedure to gain access to China's consumer market, said Manuel Kaulen, Frusan's general manager.
"It feels like a task has been completed following several years of doing everything needed to open the Chinese market to the pears," Kaulen told Xinhua.
"We're very happy that China will be opening its doors to the pears, which will come as a huge relief to pear producers," he added.
Founded in 1979, Frusan is one of Chile's leading fruit producers. It exports to more than 50 countries on five continents and has 5,000 hectares of fruit orchards in the northern Coquimbo and southern Lakes regions.
Statistics from Chile's Agriculture Ministry show pear exports topped 140,000 tons, or 180 million U.S. dollars.
During the 2017-2018 season, Chile shipped 385,516 tons of fresh fruit to China, 66 percent more than the 2016-2017 season, according to Chile's Association of Fruit Exporters.
Cherries are the country's top fruit export to China, accounting for 41.4 percent of the total.