Dragon fruit exports to quality-conscious markets like the US , Japan , and the Republic of Korea (RoK) are expected to double this year to 2,600 tonnes, according to exporters.

An Phu Irradiation Joint Stock Co (API) began exporting dragon fruits to the US immediately after the Lunar New Year Festival (Tet) last week.

Vuong Dinh Khoat, API's director, said dragon fruit exports to that market had been constantly increasing after Vietnamese exporters improved quality control and US consumers became familiar with it.

"In the past, dragon fruits exported to the US by sea suffered a lot of spoilage. Now, export companies control quality from orchard to port and so the spoilage rate is low."

Exporters are eyeing shipments of 1,500 tonnes this year against 856 tonnes last year.

They are also hoping to sell the fruit to markets and supermarkets other than just those in Vietnamese and Chinese neighbourhoods.

Exports to Japan are expected to pick up this year after the country lifted its ban on Vietnamese dragon fruit last year.

Nguyen Hong Hung, deputy director of Yasaka Fruit Processing Company based in southern Binh Duong province, said exports to Japan are likely to top 600 tonnes this year from 420 tonnes last year.

Yasaka is also promoting exports to the RoK which lifted its own ban last October.

RoK experts are expected to come next week to inspect his company's hot steam sterilisation facilities for dragon fruit, he said.

"At the end of this month or early March, Vietnam 's first container of dragon fruit will be sent to RoK."

RoK is a promising market which could buy 500 tonnes this year, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted an official from the Plant Protection Department as saying.

This month the US is likely to lift its ban on Vietnamese rambutan fruit, according to the Department.

Nguyen Huu Dat, director of the Post-Import Plant Quarantine Centre No 2, said fruits shipped to the US must have the growing area code and packing code and be irradiated.

Rambutan could be a better choice for export to the US than dragon fruit since Vietnam has experience in exporting it and irradiation facilities, he added.

Khoat of API said his company was set to apply for the growing area code and has worked with US partners to prepare for rambutan exports to the US when the ban would be lifted.

The country now has an X-ray irradiation facility in HCM City and Binh Duong Province .

The third with an annual capacity of 150 tonnes will open in the Mekong Delta province of Vinh Long in May./.