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China Makes Breakthrough in Coffee Exports

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China will export coffee directly to the United States in April, according to a deal signed between the ECUM Coffee Group and Yunnan Hogood Co. Ltd..

In a statement on Saturday, Hogood said it will export 240 tonnes of coffee beans per month to Atlantic (USA) Inc., a member of the Denmark-based ECUM Coffee Group.

Before this deal, Chinese coffee reached foreign consumers via international coffee suppliers, such as Nescafe and Starbucks.

Jon H. Stefenson, director of marketing at the ECUM US subsidiary, said packages of the company's coffee products will carry marks indicating the plantation origin as Yunnan.

Yunnan Hogood, which is based in Dehong Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, is one of the largest coffee suppliers in China.

It has contracted 30,000 rural households to grow coffee. By the end of 2008, it had 5,333 hectares of contracted land.

Xiong Xiangru, chairman of the board of Hogood, said the company aimed to gradually reduce its dependence on supplying beans to foreign coffee brands. Instead, he wants to focus on promoting the company's own brand of products.

Currently, the world's top five coffee suppliers, including Nescafe, Maxim, Maxwell and Kraft have purchased beans from Yunnan. The province accounts for 98 percent of China's total coffee output, according to Xiong, president of the Yunnan Coffee Association.

Nescafe is the largest buyer of Yunnan coffee. Its purchase in Yunnan reached 8,000 tonnes last year,

Starbucks offered last month to use Yunnan coffee beans in its global procurement system.

"World consumers may have already tasted Yunnan coffee, before they recognize the coffee's plantation origin," said Xiong.

According to figures from the provincial forestry bureau, Yunnan had 23,000 hectares of coffee plantations last year. Its total coffee output was 28,000 tonnes.

Coffee planting only has a decade of history in China because many people prefer tea. However, coffee's popularity is increasing.

Better business has benefited poor farmers in Yunnan.

Zhou Yuetuan, a farmer of the Dai ethnic group, said her family earned more than 20,000 yuan (US$2,900) last year planting coffee.

The per capita income for farmers in the province was 3,102 yuan last year.

(Xinhua News Agency March 1, 2009)