Home Trade association “I don’t see immediate opportunities for Moldavian apples in Western Europe, but I do see some for stone fruits”

“I don’t see immediate opportunities for Moldavian apples in Western Europe, but I do see some for stone fruits”

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This time we hear someone in Western Europe talking about Moldavian history, in which, until now, only the locals have had a say. We looked for a producer/distributor who knew this region of South-Eastern Europe, its culture and especially the fruit sector of this little Ukrainian neighbour. Tony Derwael, owner of Bel’Export, corresponds to this bill. “I’ve been there more than once. I wanted to set up something to export to Russia, but in the end it didn’t happen,” Tony explains of his connection to Moldova.

Bel’Export is a Belgian growing and trading company that focuses on the best fruit – 30 million kg of pears and 15 million kg of apples pass through the processing lines of its packing plant each year. It too was hit hard when, on August 7, 2014, Russia imposed an embargo on European fruit, meat, fish and dairy products.

Russia has long been the most important market for Moldovan fruit, but according to Tony, growers and exporters from Moldova have always kept an eye on the Western European market. “Sometimes we had to import plums in particular, and they manage to fill this gap. This product is of excellent quality.

Few Moldovan apples on the EU market
“Apples are another story. Moldavian apples may taste delicious, but I see little opportunity for them in the Western European market. First, the competition from Poland is too fierce. This country has a huge supply and can also offer the product A trip from Moldova to here easily costs €5,000, or €0.25/kg, while you can get Polish Galas in duty free for €0.40 /kg. In comparison, French Galas trade between €0.80 and €0.90. Once maritime transport from the Black Sea resumes, one has to wonder whether transport by refrigerated containers – still three times cheaper than road transport – could offer an opportunity for Moldovan fruit exports to Western Europe.

Local for local: protectionism?
However, Moldova should not only compete with cheaper Polish products; it is also confronted – as indicated in previous articles – with the prestige enjoyed by products from Western and Southern Europe. “The supermarkets here carry Galas, but they invariably come from France or Italy,” says Tony. In this sense, the preference of EU consumers for local culture – for various reasons; sustainability being the main one – also indicates a form of real or implicit protectionism. “France and Germany, the largest markets in Western Europe, will only import products when they no longer have their own stock.”

This self-preservation was evident by mid-June. Members of the Association Nationale Pommes Poires (ANPP) and the Fédération Nationale de la Pêche en France (FNPF) spoke out against what was then still a European Commission proposal to double duty-free quotas from seven Moldovan horticultural products, including apples. These French associations have not called into question the admirable intention of this approach (support for the Moldovan economy affected by the war in Ukraine). Still, they warned that the European market, especially the apple market, could destabilize.

“I don’t support protectionism; I believe in free trade and I want to include Moldovan producers in it. But I don’t think the increased quotas will help them export more apples to Western and Northern Europe anytime soon. It is also because there is little market here for their varieties. They grow very little Jonagold, while Belgians are still very fond of this apple 40 years later. They don’t have Elstar, to which the Dutch and Germans are attached. They have other varieties, often newer than us. By the way, Belgium must prepare to exchange the Jonagold for another apple. This strain is nearing its sell-by date, while Elstar still has years ahead of it in the Netherlands and Germany.

Romania, Middle East and India
“So what does Moldova have to offer? Braeburn and Gala, for example, or Fuji. I see definite opportunities in the UK and Romania, Moldova’s big western neighbour, where people speak the same language. In this sense, doubling the quotas could prove useful, even if Romania, with its 19 million inhabitants, is not exactly the largest market either.”

Tony understands that Moldovan producers are talking about the Middle East. “I can actually see the salvation there. This market is quite large (57.6 million inhabitants in 2021 according to World Bank figures, if we add up potential markets like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the populations of the United Arab Emirates – ed.), and the varieties that Moldova has to offer are popular there. There is some competition from South Africa and the United States”

“But I think Moldova has a competitive advantage in terms of transport times and prices. I even think the European government could be helpful. They could follow the example of the programs that USAID has successfully implemented. for decades in the former eastern bloc countries, including Moldova, through the industry association Moldova Fruct. Now that would be helpful. Moldova even has an advantage over us in the Middle East because we don’t have not the varieties for export to the Arabian Peninsula Elstar and Jonagold are just plain sweet.

“Dark red varieties can go to India. I helped some Moldovan producers by sending them contact information. India has plenty of apples, but they are not self-sufficient. They produce about as much as the EU as a whole, but they have a lot more people living there (according to World Bank data, last year the EU had 447 million people and l India 1.393 billion; three times more – editor’s note). Egypt is also an option, and I think the Moldovan government is trying to tap into that market. Although Poland, with its huge harvest of apples, is also there.

Egypt – with a population of 104 million according to the World Bank – is by no means a small market; however, since this spring, fruit exports to the North African country have become more difficult. Due to the shortage of foreign currencies – lira euros and dollars – on March 1, 2022, the Central Bank of Egypt imposed restrictive payment rules on March 1, 2022. This affects many imports. The goal is to spend the available currency only on basic goods such as wheat and medicine.

Fantastically good wine (and grapes)
Tony doesn’t see Western Europe as an immediate selling market for cherries – “their climate means their cherries are a few sizes smaller than what our market requires” – he praises the flavor of their grapes and of a by-product: wine. “Moldovan wine is fantastic, which makes sense when you have such delicious grapes. It is a region that receives the most sunshine in Europe. They should take into account the requirements of the European market and react accordingly. Why not grow blueberries and other soft fruits? “

Turkey in competition
Moldova must strive to access markets and build a reputation as competition intensifies. And even if Russia reopens, the export potential will be more limited – Russia is developing its own culture and other countries like Turkey are gaining more market share. “Turkey is winning in several markets. It will be a competition for Moldova, as it will be for us. In Russia, Turkey has already won part of our old share, and I think that now they will fill the void left by the recent embargo on Moldovan fruit.”

Bad reactions in 2014
Tony wants to conclude by returning to the events of 2014, following the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent mutual sanctions between Europe and Russia. “Europe now realizes that it made a mistake by not taking tough action against the Kremlin. If we had reacted more decisively, the Russian regime might not have dared to invade Ukraine. In this sense, it turns out that we fruit growers also reacted incorrectly. The European Commission should have temporarily compensated the fruit growers, which it did not do. They let the producers down. They apparently couldn’t afford to help, but the pandemic has proven that when politicians want it, they can find sufficient resources,” Tony concludes.

For more information:
Tony Derwael
Bel’Export
2 Neremstraat
3840 Borgloon (Belgium)
Tel: +32 (0)12 67 10 50
Mobile +32 (0) 475 723 022
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.belexport.com