It is very easy for dishonest traders in Ho Chi Minh City to distribute their Chinese-grown fruits to consumers in the guise of produce grown in the U.S., or other countries with safe, developed agriculture.
VnExpress newspaper reporters spent weeks observing the Thu Duc Agriculture Wholesale Market, the largest wholesale market of fruits and produce in Ho Chi Minh City, to find out how Chinese pears and apples are turned into U.S. or New Zealand-grown fruits.
Several hundred metric tons of Chinese fruits are officially and legally imported and transported to the Thu Duc wholesale market every night.
There, they are sold to traders from smaller wholesale markets, such as Hoc Mon or Binh Dien.
Finally, fruit vendors in small markets across Ho Chi Minh City and neighboring localities source the products from Hoc Mon or Binh Dien to sell to consumers.
But before putting the fruits on shelves, many small traders will take the fruits out of their packaging or cardboard boxes with Chinese characters, and place fake stamps claiming the agro-produce comes from the U.S., or other countries.
The fruits are then put on sale without packaging or boxes, but each is stamped with a fake label.
This is all it takes to turn Chinese products into foreign ones.
It is also simple to get the fake stamps needed for this process.
“You can ask for the stamps at any print shop,” a wholesaler at the Thu Duc market said.
The most common stamp has a photo of an apple on it, and text reading “two-cape” beneath it. The “two-cape” text is replaced with “Washington” or “Fuji” on other types of the bogus stamps.
Chinese apples are available at VND320,000 (US$15.06) per 10-kg cardboard box at the Thu Duc wholesale market, while small traders will charge consumers VND55,000 ($2.59) a kg.
Other traders, meanwhile, tell consumers that they only sell grapes from Ninh Thuan, a south-central province 362km from Ho Chi Minh City that is known for high-quality grapes, while the fruits are in fact Chinese-grown.
Up to 75 percent of apples imported from China
Apples were imported in the largest quantity by Vietnam last year, according to the General Department of Vietnam Customs.
More than 72,000 metric tons of apples, worth $23.8 million, were imported to Vietnam, 75 percent of which came from China.
In the first eight months of this year, Chinese produce accounted for 57 percent of imported apples, according to the customs general department.
In 2013, 88 percent of imported oranges to Vietnam were from its northern neighbor, while the figure was 50 percent for grapes.
Meanwhile, the quality and safety of Chinese fruits remain a major concern.
Pham Xuan Da, head of Vietnam’s National Institute for Food Control, has recently warned that Chinese pears can remain fresh for five months in normal environmental conditions after absorbing unknown preservatives.