Tropical fruit market set to ripen

Tropical fruit producing and importing countries met for the first time last month and agreed on an agenda aimed at boosting trade to improve earnings, nutrition, consumer choice and food security.

Twenty-two countries, mainly from the developing world, met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the International Consultation on Tropical Fruits to discuss the prospects of a global industry now generating exports worth US$1.3 billion every year.

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"There have been expert meetings on tropical fruits before but the important thing about this consultation is that governments have met and agreed on an important agenda for future work in this area," said Ms Paola Fortucci, an FAO specialist in commodities.

The future outlook for the industry is good. But many developing countries, which grow the bulk of the world's tropical fruit, face big constraints in increasing output and exports. The Philippines, for example, suffers from poor roads, irrigation and technology transfer. And like other countries present at the meeting, it said the lack of market information also hindered growth.

On this issue, the meeting agreed on an annual questionnaire to collect relevant data from importing and exporting countries. It was also recommended that FAO build upon its existing information system to improve its coverage of the industry.

The meeting's other key recommendations included:

  • exporters work with major distributors and supermarkets on quality requirements and product promotion
  • ministries and industries increase their cooperation to protect consumers and study sanitary requirements including those of the World Trade Organization
  • the monitoring of production and world trade policies
  • the nutritional benefits of tropical fruits - most of these are consumed where they are produced - be publicized widely.

Value-added, processed products are vital if developing countries going down this road are to increase their returns. And fruit juice concentrate seemed to offer favourable prospects for a long-term increase in exports. But here, and elsewhere in the industry, much will depend on attracting investment in developing handling, processing and distribution capacities.

Meanwhile, Malaysia will lead a new network to promote development activities in the industry. Ongoing intergovernmental cooperation on tropical fruits and the way to go about it will be discussed by the Committee on Commodity Problems due to meet at FAO in Rome in February 1997.

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