ZHENGZHOU/SANTIAGO, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) -- Chartered flights carrying Chilean cherries have arrived weekly at the central China air hub of Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, where the fruits are distributed to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and further dispatched to second-tier cities.
Chilean cherries used to take regular passenger and cargo flights with transits to reach China, spending more than 100 hours on a single trip. The high logistics cost made the exotic fruit expensive on the Chinese market. With chartered flights, air transport only takes 30 hours.
The logistics efficiency has been further boosted by the entry port of Zhengzhou, which offers a fast track of customs clearance service for fruit imports, allowing Chinese customers access to fresh Chilean cherries, said Huang Xianhua, deputy secretary-general of the fruit branch of the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Products (CFNA).
"The company tested two chartered flights in 2014, and now the number of chartered flights has reached 140," said Huang, who is also the general manager of the Shanghai Oheng Import & Export Co. Ltd.
The Fushun Fruit SpA has been exporting Chilean cherries to China for three years. Alonso Xu, general manager of the company, said the company's total export volume is expected to reach 1,000 tonnes this year.
He attributed the swift trade to the China-Chile Free Trade Agreement, which came into effect in 2006, and the upgraded version of the agreement which became effective in March this year, granting Chilean cherries zero-tariff market access to China.
At a fruit stall in downtown Zhengzhou, Chilean cherries are priced at 40 yuan (about 5.7 U.S. dollars) per kilo, compared to more than 200 yuan per kilo two years ago.
Winter in China is summer in Chile. On a cherry plantation owned by Nativa Foods, 50 km from Chile's capital Santiago, cherry trees are basking in the hot sun. Workers are hand-picking cherries from branches. The 30-hectare plantation produces 150 to 200 tonnes of cherries each year, with 95 percent of the output exported to the Chinese market.
Pablo Morales, export director of Nativa Foods, said the Chinese market has kept expanding, with growing quality requirements.
"We are constantly adjusting the cherry varieties, based on Chinese consumers' appetite," said Molares, adding that he hopes to introduce advanced agricultural drones from China to reduce losses from birds pecking at cherries in the orchards. In Chile, fruit growers all know that cherries are a cash crop.
Chile's exports of cherries to China have been growing rapidly, with the amount increasing from 1 million U.S. dollars in 2006 to 1 billion dollars in 2018, totaling 180,000 tonnes in volume and accounting for 88 percent of Chile's total exports of cherries.
The planting area of cherries in Chile now exceeds 40,000 hectares.
"Chile's cherry production is expected to double in four to five years. Only the Chinese market can have such a big demand for cherries," said Huang.
He said many Chilean fruit growers have paid attention to the Chinese lunar calendar to better understand Chinese food habits and customs and farming.
"China's growing demand for Chilean cherries has improved the quality of life of people in cherry producing areas in Chile," said Cristian Tagle, president of the Cherries Committee of the Chilean Fruit Exporters Association.