08:40 | 10/07/2015 Trade
It’s taken 12 years of negotiation but Australian lychee lovers can now enjoy the luscious fruit throughout winter, thanks to an import deal with Vietnam.
Vietnam is hoping lychees will be the first of many tropical fruits it can export to Australia. (ABC: Lili Tu)
After years of waiting, fresh Vietnamese lychees have finally arrived in Australia.
Vietnamese exporters of the exotic and popular Asian fruit are now able to send consignments to Australia after the Australian Government approved importation from May this year.
And they are hoping this will be the first of many tropical fruits gracing Australian tables from Vietnam.
"After 12 years of negotiating, lychee is the first fresh fruit from Vietnam to enter the Australian market. It has significant value to us as it would open doors for many other Vietnamese tropical fruits, such as mangos, dragon fruits and longan," says Nguyen Hoang Thuy, head of the Vietnamese Trade Office in Sydney.
"We hope Australians will accept Vietnamese fruits just like Vietnamese people have loved Australian cherries, grapes and oranges. "
The Australian lychee season peaks at Christmas time while Vietnam harvests the fruit from May until July. It is a great advantage for the Vietnamese product - but Vietnam is not the only supplier as Australia imports lychees from China, Taiwan and Thailand as well.
However the Vietnamese lychee, which is native to Northern Vietnam, is highly praised for its sweetness and floral note, making it a popular ingredient for sorbets, cocktails and desserts.
Legend says that the lychee was the favourite fruit of Yang Yuhuan (Yang Guifei), one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. The fresh lychee were in such demand in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) that a special courier service with fast horses were established just in order to bring the fruit to the Imperial court. Many horses died of exhaustion so the emperor had the fruit delivered at great expense to the capital.
Transportation for the delicate fruit remains difficult even today, especially to Australia, which has rigorous food standards.
In a trial with three exporters and two Australian importers, only one consignment passed the Australian inspection without requiring further treatment.
Mr Khanh Pham, the Australian importer who owns the successful consignment, had to travel to Vietnam twice to make sure the quality of lychees were up to Australian standard before it was sent.
"(Vietnamese) growers only sell lychees in bunches. I had to show them the way Thai and Chinese producers cut the fruit, no branches at all," he says. "Dong Phuong (the lychee processing company) also had to hand-pick each of them."
Although, Mr Khanh Pham doesn't think he will make any profit from the consignment this year, he believes bringing Vietnamese lychees to Australia, has an important impact for the growers.
"When they can export, the price of lychees in the local market is stable at 20 thousand to 24 thousand Dong per kilo. Compared to last year when it dropped to only 8 thousand Dong."
It's still a long way to go before Vietnamese lychees establish a foothold in Australia. But this new deal means the quality and flavoursome fruit will be available in Australian shopping baskets even in winter enabling Australian lychee lovers to enjoy the luscious fruit almost all year round./.