Imports of fruit and vegetables into Vietnam reached 264 million USD in the first 11 months of the year, an increase of 3.9 percent over the same period last year, according to the Vietnam Fruit and Vegetable Association.

Imports in November alone totalled 30 million USD, largely due to a surge in imports from China. Fruit such as oranges, apples and pears constituted over 85 percent of the imports.

Agricultural products from preferred importers must meet minimal food safety and pesticide inspections but were not checked for the presence of preservatives or stimulants, said a Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development official who asked to have his name withheld.

Products with a certificate of origin from China receive the preferential treatment and are exempt from import taxes pursuant to the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement.

Merchants who had registered to open an import declaration might import products without limit, confirmed Tran Vu Hoang, a customs official at the Lao Cai International Border Gate.

Without the import tax procedures, the safety inspections and efforts to protect domestic agricultural products had become too lax, Hoang said.

Nguyen Tri Ngoc, director of the ministry's Cultivation Department, said that many of the imported fruits were also grown on domestic farms but were hard-pressed to compete with Chinese produce in terms of variety, price or quality.

Domestic farmers needed to improve the quality of produce to compete with imported products, Ngoc said.

They also needed to deal with such issues as climate change, rising fertiliser prices in the northern region, and flooding in the central region, he added, although good weather currently would likely guarantee sufficient produce to meet high consumer demand ahead of the Lunar New Year.