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A bevy of workers are carefully sorting and grading an enormous pile of lychees at a packing house in northern Vietnam. The best of the bunch will go to China. “China is by far our largest market,” fruit trader Tran Van Sang, 42, told AFP at his warehouse in Luc Ngan — a small town just north of Hanoi which is taken over by lychees during the tropical fruit’s short six-week season.

Some 60 percent of Vietnam’s lychee crop is exported to China, according to official figures. But the trade is highly vulnerable to political bickering between the communist neighbours, driving a shift into new markets with Vietnamese lychee exported to Australia and America for the first time this year.