Egypt is eyeing new markets for its agricultural exports, particularly in Asia. It should begin exporting fruit and vegetables to Japan after quarantine officials from both countries have reached agreement on quality and safety standards, Agriculture Minister Ezzeddin Abu Steit said last week.
The crops set for export include potatoes, garlic, watermelons and dates.
Negotiations are also underway with Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong to discuss quality specifications for imported produce.
Egypt is also in talks with China over potentially exporting dates, pomegranates, mangoes and potatoes to the country.
In July 2017, China approved regulations for importing Egyptian grapes after the Chinese General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) agreed to open Chinese markets to imports from Egypt.
In January, China officially approved the Agriculture Ministry’s quality and safety checks to export dates to the Chinese market, and Egypt is expected to start exporting dates to China by January 2019.
Egypt is the world’s largest dates producer, capturing 18 per cent of global dates production and 23 per cent of Arab dates production, former trade minister Tarek Kabil said earlier this year.
Opening new markets for Egypt’s agricultural produce has many benefits because it can compensate for other markets that could face problems, Mustafa Al-Naggari, treasurer of the Agricultural Export Council (AEC), said.
He said that if a market banned imports from Egypt, this could cause problems in the local market and even a deterioration in the produce. “It can harm a lot of people, so opening more markets for agricultural produce will help compensate for any damage and help us maintain quality,” Al-Naggari said.
Over the last few years, several countries have imposed bans on some agricultural produce from Egypt, citing high levels of pesticides.
Al-Naggari said the reason for tapping Asian markets was their large size and buying power, helping people buy imported goods. Climate change might also create opportunities for exports as these might affect crops in other countries, he said.
Apart from Asia, other markets that Egypt is currently targeting include Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to countries in Africa. Egypt’s traditional markets for agricultural exports include the European Union and the Arab states.
Opening up new markets for exports can be challenging, however, Al-Naggari said, given that each country may have its own regulations and standards for food safety.
Consequently, negotiations with new markets may not be easy, but when the produce is accepted in other markets it can facilitate its entry to new ones, he added.
“When a product is present in many markets, it can create demand for it in other markets,” Al-Naggari told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He said that the local agricultural market suffered from problems that could make it difficult for Egypt to open up new markets. These problems, pertaining to farming methods and fertilisers, should be addressed by the government, Al-Naggari said.
He said that one solution could be for the state to encourage agricultural cooperatives, in which farmers pool their resources in certain areas of activity.
“Cooperatives can help us produce more and improve the quality of produce,” he said.
He added that 60 per cent of Europe’s exports in agriculture were from agricultural cooperatives.
Professor of agricultural economy at Al-Azhar University in Cairo Mahmoud Mansour said that opening up new markets for Egypt’s agricultural exports would help increase the country’s exports as a whole and have a positive impact on the economy.
He said that the Asian markets enjoyed a high standard of living and accordingly had a large demand. Entering these markets required high-quality products, however, he said, and Egypt would therefore need to develop its agricultural sector and address any problems.
In order to do so, Egypt has been enforcing new regulations and inspection measures to ensure the quality of agricultural exports. It introduced a new system under which crops are inspected several times while in the fields, after harvest, and after they are prepared for export.
Egypt’s agricultural exports rose by 13 per cent between September 2017 and April 2018 to reach 3.165 million tons, up from 2.802 million tons during the same period last year, according to recent data from the AEC.
The data showed that agricultural exports reached $1.594 billion, up from $1.534 billion last year, an increase of four per cent. The overall agricultural exports from Egypt to the Arab countries reached 1.278 million tons at around $680.96 million.
Exports to the EU and the UK reached 645,530 tons at $421.54 million, while exports to the Asian countries reached 296,920 tons at $159.16 million.
Exports to the Americas and Australia totalled 16,841 tons at $21.74 million, while exports to the African countries reached 16,110 tons at $12.19 million.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Expanding agricultural exports