Fruit and vegetable export earnings grew by 32.2% to 215 million USD during the first quarter of the year and are expected to hit a record high of 1.2 billion USD this year, radio The Voice of Vietnam (VOV) reported.

The radio cited the Vietnam Fruit and Vegetables Association (Vinafruit) as saying that key exported products in the reviewed period included dragon fruit, bananas, mangos, longans, litchi, star apples, rambutan and grapefruit.

The majority of fruit and vegetable exporters are optimistic that 2014 will be an economically thriving year as the backlog of orders from traditional markets, such as Russia, Japan, Ukraine and Belarus have increased dramatically.

The top five importers of Vietnamese fruit and vegetables are China, Japan, the US, Thailand and Malaysia. China is the largest consumer, accounting for nearly 35% of the total value.

Last year, China purchased 302 million USD worth of Vietnamese fruit and vegetables, an annual increase of 38.77%, and market analysts forecast this growing trend will continue in 2014.

In an unexpected turn of events, dragon fruit exports rose significantly in markets throughout the world in 2013, a trend that is predicted to carry over for 2014.

Vietnam exported 1,300 tonnes of dragon fruit to the US, more than 1,000 tonnes to Japan, and 300 tonnes to the Republic of Korea.

Since late March, exports of dragon fruit have also been picking up steam in the New Zealand, the RoK, and Taiwan markets.

In another unanticipated market shift, China, Singapore, and the RoK have suddenly increased imports of Vietnamese bananas. Currently, China is poised to purchase around 20-30 tonnes of bananas, and Japan needs between 15-20 tonnes per day.

Though prices of bananas traded at farms have doubled, the products are in short supply.

Le Si Cong, Director of Laba Da Lat Company that grows the Laba banana variety, says his company has failed to meet Japan’s market demand for 10-20 tonnes a day since late 2013.

Besides Japan, the UK, Russia and Ukraine have also expressed a keen interest in Laba bananas.

The country currently produces roughly 1.4 million tonnes of bananas per annum and its cultivation area representing approximately 19% of the total acreage devoted to fruit farming, making bananas one of the key promising export products.

However, banana farming is spontaneous, and the marketplace is hindered by a lack of coordination in the supply chain and consistency in business transactions with a large number of small growers spreading out over a wide area, pushing purchasing and transport costs up.

Average fruit and vegetable export earnings have grown more than 30% annually over the past four years from 460 million USD in 2010 to 623 million USD in 2011, 829 million USD in 2012, and 1.04 billion USD in 2013.

However, competition remains weak and many fruits and specialty exports suffer from quality defects and are returned back due to bacterial infections and other contamination.

For instance, Japan is a strict market. When they detect any insects in a batch of fruit or vegetable exports from Vietnam, all fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables are banned from entering the market.

Vietnam’s preservation technology has yet to meet international requirements, and only a relatively few Vietnamese products have been licensed to penetrate the Japanese market.

This situation is manageable and could be rectified by Vietnam paying more and proper attention to investment in scientific technology in processing and post-harvest preservation.

Furthermore, fruit and vegetable exports are overly dependent on the Chinese market which often sees wide fluctuations, creating a great deal of uncertainty and instability in the market.

To sharpen the competitive edge of Vietnamese products, clean production methods, such as VietGAP and GlobalGAP need to be applied universally in the market place by stakeholders in the industry, along with increased coordination of exporting activities.

Nguyen Van Do, Director of Vietnam Academy of Agriculture Sciences (VAAS), says Vietnam has great potential for fruit and vegetable exports as its export volume makes up only 10% of total production volume and accounts for only 0.1% of total global trade.-VNA