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China allows imports of fresh Malaysian durians, but exporters expect challenges

BEIJING — Malaysia will start exporting fresh durians to China, opening up a vast market for the spiky, smelly fruit in the world's second-largest economy, although traders are worried about logistical challenges.

The approval to import the fruit comes after Chinese Premier Li Qiang's visit to Malaysia last week.

China's appetite for durian has soared in recent years, with customers paying top dollar for Malaysia's signature Musang King variety and developing a taste for durian-flavoured confectionery.

That has driven a rapid expansion of large-scale durian farms across the tropical country as growers look to cash in on soaring Chinese demand.

The world's second-biggest durian exporter after Thailand was previously allowed to ship only the whole frozen fruit and other durian-based products to China.

Exports to China were valued at RM1.19 billion (S$342 million) in 2023.

A durian exporter based in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur said preparations are being made to ship fresh durians, although there are worries of tough competition from cheaper Thai and Vietnamese varieties.

Logistical complications were another cause for concern, given the fruit's short shelf life of three days, as planters in Malaysia customarily wait for durians to fully ripen before harvesting.

Anna Teo, director of exporter Hernan Corp, said the industry must overcome these logistical challenges before it can fully tap the Chinese market.

She said: "Air cargo will take at least 36 hours. We have to find a way to slow down the process of fermentation before it arrives at the customers' doorsteps.

"We don't see big export volumes in the near future as we move from shipping frozen to fresh durians."

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