China’s loose policies cause traffic jams in Vietnam as farmers suffer

China’s zero-Covid policy is being applied China’s cities are locked down and air travel grounding once again. They are also disrupting trade routes across land borders that are a lifeline for farmers and merchants in the region.

In neighboring Vietnam, thousands of trucks full of dragon fruit, jackfruit, watermelon and other products have been piled up at the border for weeks. Their trips were disrupted after Chinese authorities late last year suspended operations at some border crossings or slowed traffic, citing the need to contain Covid-19.

With rotting fruit, some traders cut their losses. Nguyen Ngoc Phuong Thao, who exports exclusively to China, has sold five trucks of dragon fruit domestically for one-tenth of what they bought across the border. The businesswoman navigates three trucks to a seaport, paying extra to ship perishable goods to Shanghai. “Selling domestically is like dumping,” she said.

Others are still waiting. For the past 8 days, Lung Van Nhien and the boxes of jackfruit were hired to be transported to China and sat in a parking lot near the border. The fruit is starting to darken and if he can’t make it through, he’ll have to find a place to dump it all, he said.

I’m so fed up.

– Tran Minh Son, a farmer in Vietnam

For Vietnamese farmers and traders, the inability to reach Chinese consumers is crippling.

Take for example dragon fruit. China’s growing appetite has helped Vietnam’s red-skinned fruit exports reach $1 billion in 2021 – nearly 20 times the $57 million in 2010, according to data from the commerce and trade ministries. agriculture in Vietnam. About 80% of those exports go to China. Two decades ago, the Southeast Asian country has gone from producing less than 25,000 tonnes of fruit annually to an average of around 1.4 million tonnes in recent years, with many farmers turning to traditional rice.

Australia and Europe have also emerged as destinations for Vietnamese-grown dragon fruit, but demand from these places has declined. Mr. Truong Minh Trung, a farmer in Long An province, a fruit farmer in Long An province, said that a year’s sales to these markets are equal to 2-3 days of exporting goods to China.

Dragon fruit for sale in Vietnam. The country exported 1 billion USD of red-skinned fruit in 2021.


Shutterstock / Shutterstock

“Dragon fruit nine hours is considered lost,” he said, after China obstructed the flow of trade.

Beijing has set itself apart from much of the world in continuing to pursue its goal of keeping Covid-19 cases at zero even amid high transmission. Omicron variant spreads globally. Vietnam was also once a Covid-free country, but the country changed its strategy last year due to mutations in the virus that made it more difficult to prevent any transmission. In late December, the country’s Ministry of Commerce pointed to China’s measures – such as suspending border operations and stopping fruit imports – as overkill.

China is enforcing a strict set of Covid-19 rules at the Winter Olympics to prevent the Omicron variant from spreading rapidly. From a “closed-in” system to a ban on shouting, the WSJ explains how some of these restrictions will work and why despite all efforts, an outbreak can derail the lives of people. competition. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

China’s local authorities say the restrictions are driven by Covid-19 infections on their side of the border or concerns about the virus entering China by air. of Vietnam. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on January 4, when asked about the border disruption, that “China adopts the necessary Covid-19 protocols based on the global Covid-19 situation with responsible attitude towards the life and health of Chinese and foreign citizens. ”

Some points on the border have reopened, although the weeks-long backlog will take time to resolve, traders and truckers said. They were building campfires by the trucks to keep warm and cooking basic meals of pork and boiled cabbage or collard greens as they continued to wait. In some cases, Vietnamese authorities banned new trucks from approaching until the pile-up eased.


Truck drivers gather at a temporary parking lot where Vietnamese container trucks are waiting to enter China.


str / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

And there’s no guarantee China won’t hold back again.

China’s cities, provinces and seaports are not only testing people, but also testing for the coronavirus. Authorities there said a city in the Guangxi region banned the import of dragon fruit last month after the pathogen was detected on the fruit’s backpack and its packaging. A district in Anhui province has suspended all business related to imported fruit after two batches of Vietnamese dragon fruit were found to be similarly contaminated. Screening of shipments of Thai longan – a fleshy fruit resembling lychee – put sellers, buyers and shop visitors under quarantine earlier this month.

If any country gets a Chinese-style zero-Covid, it’s Vietnam. Until September, it was one of the world’s most rigorous practitioners of the approach, using experimental trace quarantine to repel any virus entry. Then the dynamics changed: business closures hurt its economy, the Delta variant – then the most contagious strain – made it harder to detect every case, and The country’s vaccination rates, which were among the lowest in Southeast Asia until summer, began to soar. Vietnam’s leaders call for an end to the country’s Non-Livable phase.

Now, although Covid-19 cases remain high, no major cities are on lockdown. In Ho Chi Minh City, where a strict lockdown last September prevented locals from stepping out of their homes to buy groceries, schools reopened and karaoke bars were in full swing.

But tropical fruit farmers are hurting. Mr. Tran Kim Thuc, director of the cooperative of 17 dragon fruit farmers, said that the border with China is congested, so in recent weeks, traders have stopped buying. Farmers sell fruit to local buyers for as little as 10 cents a kilogram, he said. One kilogram is 2.2 pounds.

Farmer Tran Minh Son, 48, said he is leaving the fruit to rot, either to feed the fish or turn it into compost. “I’m so fed up.”

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