Imports of live Christmas trees slow sharply

Dewi Fabbri Channel NewsAsia 12 Dec 16;

SINGAPORE: With Christmas just two weeks away, live pine tree imports appear to have dropped drastically. The United States - a major supplier of live Christmas trees to Singapore - has a reported shortage and, furnishing giant IKEA announced it would not be bringing in live Christmas trees from Sweden due to “logistical challenges”.

About 14,300 live pine trees have been imported into Singapore as of Dec 12, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said, down from 38,800 for the whole of 2015, and 28,400 the year before.

All of the live pine trees imported this year are from the USA and Denmark, and none are from Sweden. Last year, about 7 per cent of imported live pine trees were from Sweden, while the bulk of the trees were from the US and Denmark.

Explaining the decision to axe the sale of live Christmas trees, sales manager at IKEA Southeast Asia Malcom Pruys said it has become “increasingly challenging” to guarantee the freshness of live trees while achieving IKEA’s goal of offering it at low prices for customers. These trees need to be stored in air-conditioned environments and need additional lead time during transportation, he added.

IKEA is touting artificial trees and local potted Norfolk Island pine trees as alternatives to live trees. “At IKEA, we constantly seek to produce our products more sustainably and by August 2020, our ambition is to have 90 per cent of our home furnishing products developed this way with documented environmental improvements,” Mr Pruys said.

Far East Flora told Channel NewsAsia that it has been “more conservative” in estimating demand for live Christmas trees this year. “Over the years, definitely, there has been an increase in demand. There are more and more people looking for real live Christmas trees as opposed to artificial trees. That's undeniable,” said sales and marketing director for Far East Flora Peter Cheok. “It's just that for this year, because of the economic slowdown, we think that there may be a slowdown in the purchase of the trees.”

AVA said samples of trees brought in so far have been free of harmful pests and diseases. It has strict controls for the import of live trees requiring an import permit from AVA and plant health certification from the source country, as well as post-entry inspections by authorities.

“AVA will take enforcement against importers of plants and plant products that do not meet our requirements or fail our tests. For example, if pests are detected in live pine trees, importers are required to send the affected trees for treatment (e.g. fumigation). Such treatments will incur additional cost for importers and shorten the shelf life of the trees,” it said.

It also advises members of the public to make their Christmas tree last by placing it away from heat sources such as TVs and air ducts, and ensuring the water in the stand is not dried out.

- CNA/ly

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