On November 11, China will kick off one of its biggest online shopping days of the year with “Singles Day”, a play on the date which, when written out numerically, looks like bare sticks, a slang term for single people in China. This year’s iteration is significant because, for the first time ever, an imported fresh fruit was showcased at the kickoff event promoting the sale on China’s biggest e-commerce site, Alibaba. The Washington Apple Commission teamed up with online retailer T-Mall, a subsidiary of Alibaba, to promote Washington’s apples in the Chinese market as a means of reaching T-Mall’s 350 million customers. During this promotion, food safety and traceability are central themes. Chinese customers will be able to read about Washington’s apple growing techniques on T-Mall and, by scanning a QR code on specially marked boxes, be able to trace their apples all the way back to the very orchard they came from in Washington.
In early October 2015, a trade delegation made up of interested importers from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Dalian visited Washington orchards to learn about the different apple varieties now available to the Chinese market. Though it is the largest apple producer in the world, China primarily grows the Fuji variety while Washington grows Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, and Granny Smith, to name a few.
With the agreement to open up the Chinese market to all varieties of Washington apples in May 2015, after 20 years of limited distribution and two year ban due to disease concerns, there is the expectation that China could become Washington’s second- or third-largest export market for apples in the near future, and its largest market in Asia. During the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Washington sold 3.1 million boxes of apples to China, amounting to $53 million in profits. This increased market access could also lead to a further $100 million annually for the US economy overall.
Washington currently exports roughly 30% of its apples to 60 countries throughout the world. During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, 6 of its top 10 export destinations were in Asia: Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Two-thirds of Washington’s overall food exports also head to Asia. One such agricultural product is the geoduck or “gooey duck,” a large shellfish that is viewed as a culinary delicacy in Asia and China in particular.
Sarah Wang is a Project Assistant and the Event Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.