Okanagan cherries are one step closer to being on the shelves of luxury food markets in Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai, following the signing of a trade agreement in China Thursday between representatives of the Canadian and Chinese governments.
With the trade deal, China committed to work on access for a number of specific Canadian foods, including B.C. cherries. In 2010, this province produced 94 per cent of Canada’s sweet cherries, with most coming from the Okanagan.
“We are very pleased to see this progress on access to China for B.C. cherries,” said Christine Dendy, a local grower and head of the Okanagan Kootenay Cherry Growers’ Association. “A final agreement has the potential to immediately garner $10 million or more in cherry sales to China.”
The province is focusing on building export markets for B.C. food as part of its B.C. Jobs Plan, saying international consumers are looking to B.C. for high-quality and trusted foods.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is currently on a state visit to to China and Thursday’s agreement signing was part of that visit. It follows on the heels of B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s trade mission to Asia in November, where she discussed opportunities for B.C. food producers to sell their produce in China while there.
In July 2011, Canada’s first dedicated cargo flights to Mainland China began from Vancouver International Airport to Shanghai. The three flights per week typically deliver B.C. seafood but could also carry fruit, such as cherries, as well as other fresh foods, say provincial officials.
B.C. has set records for export of agrifood products to China in each of the last three years, with exports topping $100 million for the first time ever in 2010. Figures for 2011 are expected to be released later this month.
B.C. sent $29-million worth of cherries to other Asian markets in 2010, with more than $7.5 million going to to Taiwan and $5 million to Hong Kong. Currently, the top export markets for B.C. sweet cherries are the United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
As a temporary jobs creator, B.C. cherry growers employ more than 3,000 people during the harvest season.