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Thailand extends 'durian road' to EU with new airport role

Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi challenges Singapore as produce export hub

Exports of durians are rising, but Thailand is looking beyond China to European markets.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Exporting such fruits as durian from Thailand to Europe is set to become smoother after Bangkok's international gateway, Suvarnabhumi Airport, adopts European Union standards for inspections of outbound produce.

Under an agreement between state-owned Airports of Thailand and Liege Airport in Belgium, an important EU cargo hub, farm products inspected at Suvarnabhumi will be stamped "EU-standard certified" and be able to enter countries in the European trading bloc without further checks.

Produce from Thailand is now subject to additional checks upon arrival, risking rejection after a long trip.

AOT plans to call on Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to join the arrangement so that agricultural goods from these neighbors can go through Thailand on their way to the EU instead of stopping in Singapore for inspection.

"Thailand is geographically closer to these countries than Singapore, so transportation costs will be much lower, as they can use land routes," AOT President Nitinai Sirismatthakarn told reporters on Thursday.

"We can become the certification hub for the region," Nitinai said.

AOT plans to set up a joint venture to run the inspections and warehouse. "We need a private-sector partner that has knowledge in cool-chain logistics," Nitinai said. He aims to set up the joint venture and begin partial operations by the end of the year.

Exports of Thai fresh produce, especially fruit like durians, are on the rise, thanks in large part to surging Chinese demand.

The Tmall online shopping site, operated by Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba Group Holding, sold around 80,000 Thai durians in one minute to Chinese consumers when it began offering the strong-smelling but sweet fruit earlier this year. Durian exports reached 500,000 tons in 2017, up 30% over five years.

AOT's new inspection arrangement is seen helping Thailand expand produce exports to other parts of the world.

"While you can send 80,000 durians to some countries without inspections, Europe has strict regulations," explained Nitinai, who said that "we will start with the EU and then may tap the U.S. for a similar scheme."

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