Zespri and the Shaanxi Provincial Government signed a memorandum of understanding today which may ultimately lead to the Tauranga-based kiwifruit marketer growing fruit in China in the years ahead.

The memorandum outlines an intention to develop the kiwifruit industry in Shaanxi - China's, and probably the world's biggest Kiwifruit growing region - while establishing trial kiwifruit production bases on two sites and assessing local varieties.

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Zespri and the Shaanxi Provincial Government have also agreed to establish research centre in Hanzhong, in Shaanxi Province, to support research, expert exchanges, grower tours and scientific collaboration.

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The grower's organisation chief operating officer, Simon Limmer, said the agreement was a "step along a pathway". "It's important for us to cement these relationships in a formal kind of way," he said.

Zespri has long identified China as an important strategic market.

"It's obviously a starting point for us and they also have a well organised kiwifruit sector with government support , and with research and development institute's ," he told the Herald.

"All of which makes it a conducive place for us to carry on with our investigation as to what our China strategy should look like," he said.

"It's a step in that direction but we are still along way away from having the surety that food safety, quality and the likes can be guaranteed," he said. "Those are obviously the essential elements when it comes to putting the Zespri brand on it," he said.

"China is such an important market for us. There is an obvious strategic opportunity for us there for us at some time in the future," he said. He the memorandum was about putting deeper roots into China. Limmer said it would years before Zespri would look at growing it would consider Zespri branded fruit out of China.

China is the largest kiwifruit producer in the world, producing around 1.3 million tonnes of kiwifruit annually for domestic consumption, compared to New Zealand production of around 390,000 tonnes in 2015/16 - which is almost entirely exported.

Zespri said the Chinese kiwifruit industry is at a critical juncture in its development from a fragmented small-holding base to a modern, sophisticated industry.

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Fruit quality in China is improving and it is inevitable that strong local brands will emerge.