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Tomatoes: China’s Role

China is not only the largest producer of tomatoes worldwide, but it is also the top exporter of tomato paste, accounting for 40 percent of global trade.

Russia is China’s largest tomato trading partner; the United States represents a slim slice of the export pie accounting for only about $10 million in tomato products in 2020.

About 70 percent of China’s total tomato output comes from the remote Xinjiang Uygur region in the northwestern corner of the country, where the Silk Road once connected East and West.

In January of this year, the United States announced a withhold release order on the entry of tomatoes, tomato seeds, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce from China’s Xinjiang region. The order was designed to bring pressure on China over alleged ill-treatment and forced labor of an ethnic minority, Uighur Muslims.

The order includes products manufactured in other countries using tomatoes from Xinjiang. Importers must provide evidence shipments were not produced with forced labor to be released.

In 2020 the regional concentration of production led to logistical problems when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

As a result, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in China issued new guidelines to promote protected agriculture with a goal of having more than 2 million hectares of greenhouse facilities by 2025.

Currently, about 35 percent of vegetables in China are grown in greenhouses, with new high-tech structures being built around cities to bring produce closer to consumers.

This is an excerpt from the Tomato Spotlight in the November/December 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.