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Customs officials examine fruit exported from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, via the Kaohsiung-Pingtan freight shipping route. HU MEIDONG/CHINA DAILY

A direct sea freight route opened on Saturday between Taiwan"s Kaohsiung and Pingtan in Fujian province, drastically shortening shipping times for fresh farm produce from the island to mainland markets.

In the past, shipments from Kaohsiung were required to make intermediate stops at other Taiwan ports. But now they can go directly to the mainland.

A freighter operated by Taiwan trade shipping agency Wagon departed from a port in Kaohsiung in southwestern Taiwan, bound for Pingtan off the east coast of Fujian, on Saturday afternoon.

The direct 330-kilometer journey between the two cities shortens shipping time from two or three days to just nine hours.

The freighter was loaded with more than 700 metric tons of goods, including fruit, vegetables, frozen food, fruit juice and liquid crystal display panels worth more than 15 million yuan ($2.2 million).

All the goods had been purchased by enterprises in Pingtan to supply the needs of customers during Spring Festival celebrations on the mainland.

The sale was the first export shipment from Kaohsiung since the Kuomintang party"s Han Kuo-yu took office as the city"s mayor in December.

During his election campaign, Han described the city as "old and poor" and said it should no longer ignore the mainland market. He gained popularity with his slogan, "The goods go out, people come in, and Kaohsiung makes a fortune".

Han said he recognizes the 1992 Consensus, which embodies the one-China principle, and hoped to deepen cooperation with the mainland to boost the city"s economy.

At the launch ceremony for the freighter service on Saturday, Han said he expected more high-quality products manufactured in Kaohsiung, including farm produce, to be shipped to the mainland.

Farm produce trader Chen Mubin, from Pingtan, said shipping is fast so the freshness of the food can be guaranteed for customers" tables, and he can get a subsidy from the local government.

Pingtan fruit trader Zhou Binhua said fruit from Taiwan sells well on the mainland, and he bought 40 tons of oranges this time.

Media on the island reported recently that the number of mainland tourists to Kaohsiung is expected to increase by at least 20 percent around Spring Festival.

In response, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Wednesday that the increase is natural and to be expected because mainland tourists have seen the changes taking place in Kaohsiung.

More counties and cities in Taiwan with the correct political stance are welcome to cooperate with mainland cities to benefit people on both sides, he said.

Xinhua contributed to this story.