Friday, March 30, 2001

China officials ending
Big Isle exploratory
papaya export trip

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent

HILO -- Four agricultural officials from the People's Republic of China are concluding a weeklong visit to Oahu and the Big Island to set the groundwork for exporting papayas to China.

State Department of Agriculture official Lyle Wong said the officials have given no commitment, but a significant level of the interest is shown by the fact that two of the four are high- level negotiators in agricultural discussions between the United States and China.

Another indication of interest is that the Chinese responded within four to six weeks to a state Department of Agriculture invitation, after the department heard of the Chinese interest.

Although Chinese economic growth has been rapid in recent years, it is still largely a country of farmers, leading to the question of why the Chinese would import an agricultural product from the United States.

Wong said the Chinese explained they are one of the world's biggest citrus producers, but they also import citrus from the United States.

The type of papaya grown in China is very large and not as sweet as Hawaiian-grown fruit, Wong said.

The smaller, sweeter papayas grown here, called "solo" because they can be eaten in one sitting, are called "Hawaiian papayas," in China, even though aren't currently imported from Hawaii, Wong said.

The immediate market for Hawaii papayas in China would be hotels and affluent consumers.

The Chinese officials are looking into matters such as genetically modified papayas, which resist ringspot disease, and treatment of the fruit with vapor heat and x-rays to kill fruit flies.

China has already approved some genetically modified foods and irradiation of food, so those would probably not be barriers to Hawaii's fruit, Wong said.

If the Chinese government gives its approval, the importation to China would be in the hands of private company, Wong said.

The Chinese officials return home tomorrow.

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