B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative’s apple exports to Asia have declined due to the coronavirus outbreak. (File photo)

B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative’s apple exports to Asia have declined due to the coronavirus outbreak. (File photo)

Coronavirus impacts Okanagan fruit exports to Asia

Apple exports have been hit the hardest

The fruit industry is the latest victim to feel the impact of the coronavirus as the industry struggles to export its products to Asia, the epicentre of the virus.

According to Warren Sarafinchan, B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative CEO, the industry has been sending fewer exports to Asia since the virus started to spread in January.

“Getting any fruit into China right now has been quite challenging, particularly since we do so much business in the country,” said Sarafinchan.

“Right now, we’re watching how the coronavirus situation is unfolding in certain countries so we can take whatever appropriate action we need to take.”

He said the apple industry has been particularly hard hit.

“Currently, our apple exports don’t have any access to the Chinese market,” said Sarafinchan, adding the company is still exporting some of its apples to other Asian markets.

Given that the virus appears to be continuing to spread, Sarafinchan is concerned about the impact on cherry farmers, which export their products to international markets in June and July. He said he’s also particularly worried about the impact the virus is having on ports, which play a critical role in the fruit supply chain.

“Ports are one area where our products have slowed down or even stopped,” said Sarafinchan. “Since the global supply chain has slowed down by the novel coronavirus, we need to start thinking about how we’ll resume business when things get back up to speed.”

Despite the slowdown, Sarafinchan said none of his employees have been laid off and so far the financial impact has been minimal.

Worldwide, more than 3,100 people have died and more than 92,000 have become sick from the novel coronavirus.

As of March 5, 33 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Canada, including 12 in B.C. There have been no confirmed deaths.

In response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Bank of Canada also recently cut its key interest rate target to 1.25 per cent to stimulate economic growth.