BEIJING  -  China stepped up its efforts to explore market in Pakistan’s northern region for importing the country’s popular fruits like cherry. A delegation of Chinese quarantine experts and government officials recently visited the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan region – home to cherry orchards in Pakistan.

They checked the farm-to-market quality of Pakistani cherry. And, according to Pakistani officials, the visitors returned home satisfied, reports China Economic Net (CEN).

A group of journalists including those from Economic Daily – China Economic Net (CEN) went to a cherry orchard in the Gilgit–Baltistan region and talked with officials, growers and exporters for cherry’s export to China.

They had a meeting with Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman and inquired from him the potential and opportunity for promoting trade and the economic ties between China and the northern regions.

Currently, China imports bulk of its cherry from South American countries to meet growing demand of the exotic fruit. “China wants to gain market access for cherry from Gilgit-Baltistan – something which it didn’t have access earlier,” said Ministry of Food Security the Directorate of Plant Protection Department Deputy Director Shahid Abdullah.

Gilgit-Baltistan produces 4,000 metric tons of cherry per season. And since local consumption is limited, farmers export the fruit, Abdullah said during the interview. Cherry is easily perishable fruit – with little shelf life – so Pakistan has been looking for nearby destinations to export cherry to. And China, being a next-door neighbour with an ever-growing appetite for the fruit, is the most viable option.

“In the past, we would send samples, but they were never accepted. Now, China has finally agreed to take a step forward by sending its officials to Pakistan,” Abdullah said.

The Chinese quarantine experts’ delegation visited cherry orchards to see if there was any disease, or pest in the fruit that could become a concern of quarantine. They toured cherry orchards, and inspected fruit quality and its shelf life. “Their major concern was fruit fly, but they didn’t find any.

They collected samples of leaves and bark of cherry trees for pathologists back home to ensure the fruit is disease-free. “The two countries are expected to complete pest risk analysis (PRA), an international requirement, before exports formally start.

The Chinese side would also be preparing a post-visit report in which experts might mention mitigation measures and recommendations to rectify issues, if any. “The visit objective was to identify issues and recommend remedial measures.”

The delegation also visited laboratories. “We have an integrated pest management (IPM) lab that has biological control agents. There are controls in the lab for things found in the plant, like preys in the orchards, refrigerator requirements, etc,” officials said. They also saw pack houses in G-B, where cherry is processed to increase its shelf life, among other things. “The delegation was also satisfied with the processing.”

About transportation, shipping containers carrying cherry would be sent by road via Sost dry port on the China-Pakistan border. “Getting access to the Chinese market for cherry would be a major breakthrough, which could be followed by export of apricot and potatoes, etc. G-B Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GBCCI) President Imran Ali said the Chinese delegation has assured that they would remove hurdles to cherry imports from Pakistan. “They [Chinese officials] said they would also recommend to their government to import Pakistan’s cherry which is purely organic.”

He said the Chinese delegation was satisfied with everything – from quality of the fruit to processing and packaging. “They tasted our cherries – and liked it.” CEN recently contacted the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan. Wang Zhihua, Economic and Commercial Counsellor of Chinese Embassy in Pakistan, said that China’s efforts to promote the field visit and inspection and quarantine of Pakistani cherry is the first step towards achieving the goal of Pakistan’s cherry export to China.