Curb dodgy durian trade
The rise in the discovery of substandard durians meant for export to China is raising an alarm in the local durian industry.
If this issue persists, it could hurt Thailand's reputation as one of the largest exporters of durian in the region.
Last week, the Mukdahan Plant Quarantine Station banned 38 tonnes of durians due for export to China via Laos. The shipments were sent back to Chumphon, the source, after authorities at the border station found many substandard durians. These durians were said to be unripe and tainted with bugs and disease.
The incident has sparked questions of how such substandard durians can be moved out of the province despite shipments needing prior Department of Agriculture (DoA) approval.
Thammanoon Kaewkongkha, head of the DoA's Bureau of Plant and Agricultural Materials Control, admitted the fruit should have been checked and labelled with guarantee stickers issued by the authorities before export.
He declined to comment on whether DoA authorities were involved, but this is not the first time this has happened. In June, Mukdahan authorities seized two containers of substandard durians shipped from Chanthaburi.
An investigation found those durians were packed for export from a warehouse licenced by the DoA. The owner claimed a friend used the facility to pack the fruit. Having substandard durians is not the only problem hindering the Thai durian industry as cases have emerged of traders selling durian with fraudulent certificates to China, and claiming Vietnamese durian was Thai.
In June, Chanthaburi police raided a warehouse and found 19 tonnes of durians from Vietnam being prepared for export to China as Thai durians. Lately, durian production in the southern region of the kingdom has slowed even as demand in China remains high.
Concurrently, durians in Vietnam are heading to the market. Thai authorities do not restrict durian imports, unscrupulous importers bring the fruit from Vietnam to repack them as Thai durians for export to China.
It is fair to say that Thai durians perform well in the Chinese market due to their popularity. In the past six months, more than 670,000 tonnes of durians valued at 72 billion baht have been exported to China.
Despite the demand, Thailand lacks effective regulations to ensure the quality of all of its durian exports. The DoA must inspect durians for export but they lack the authority to take legal action.
For example, the DoA lacks the authority to confiscate substandard durians without cooperation from local administrations. In many cases, warehouses in the wrong reopened just days after failing an inspection.
Thailand faces challenges from new competitors in the durian market. As China pursues a zero-Covid policy, Vietnam, after Thailand, has emerged as the second major exporter of fresh durians to China. Several others countries in Southeast Asia are also pursuing market access.
If Thailand fails to restore the reputation of its durian exports by the time China reopens its fresh durian market, the supremacy of Thai durians will be threatened by its competitors, such as Malaysia's Musang King, which regularly commands high prices in the market. Lao PDR, Cambodia and the Philippines are also targeting the Chinese market. Given such challenges, Thailand must make sure its regulations to ensure its durian exports are up to the job.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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