Foreign investors seek foothold in Vietnam

The recent announcement that Portunas, an Icelandic seafood company, had purchased a pangasius processing plant in Vietnam is yet another example of a foreign firm seeking to gain a foothold in this country’s seafood industry.

According to Vietnam News, Portunas is seeking opportunities to help the sustainable development of Vietnam’s fishery. Pálmi Pálmason, CEO of Portunas, said, “Vietnam has an annual output of up to 4 million tons of seafood. The figure can increase if the country applies fishing and processing technologies like Iceland’s.”

Other observers go further and predict that Vietnam could double its seafood production if it “instilled professional discipline” into the industry. 

Vietnam’s fisheries industry is backward compared with Iceland’s and certainly would benefit by adopting at least some of that country’s methods. However, Portunas is undoubtedly looking to do more in Vietnam than just pass on Icelandic expertise.

Vietnam has untapped resources of seafood, particularly when it comes to aquaculture. And this could well be what Portunas and other foreign firms are seeking to gain access to. 

Shrimp and pangasisus are the two most common farmed species exported from Vietnam. However, Marine Farms, the former Norwegian aquaculture company now owned by Morpol of Poland, has been farming cobia in central Vietnam since 2005. The white-fleshed marine species, popular in Asia, is also proving a hit in the United States. More recently, the company started to farm pompano in the same location. Again very popular in Asia, the fast-growing fish is being trialled in Europe and the United States. 

Production of molluscan shellfish is being stepped up. Last week, the Vietnamese Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) reported that the area dedicated to clam and scallop farming in the Mekong Delta is expected to more than triple in the next four years and more than quadruple in the next nine years.   

Earlier this year, I reported that a Danish investment group had provided finance, together with a Vietnamese bank, to build and equip Bianfishco’s new factory producing collagen drinks from pangasius off-cuts. Whether this is a forerunner for the group investing in other areas of the Vietnamese seafood industry remains to be seen.

It’s not just seafood that foreign firms are looking for. A Danish company is reported to have built a factory in Vietnam to take advantage of the cheaper labor there. Species such as cod and haddock are being sent to the factory for processing and re-export. 

Investment in the Vietnamese seafood industry is not restricted to northern Europe. CP Foods of Thailand has invested in farms and feed plants for shrimp, Vietnam’s most valuable seafood export. Chinese companies are also investing in shrimp processing plants and forming what is known as joint stock companies where the Vietnamese retain overall control. (This is the case for all international investors in Vietnam, as foreign firms are not allowed outright ownership of Vietnamese companies.)

In addition, the Chinese are reported to be traveling along the coast of the country buying up wild-caught fish, shrimp and squid, which they either process in Vietnam or take back to China.

A Japanese importer that used to purchase value-added products from Agrex Saigon has built new state of the art premises in order to produce high-end seafood specifically for the Japanese market. The new processing company is called GN (Gift of Nature) Foods. 

Foreign investment in Vietnam might simply be a means of securing scarce raw material, or utilizing cheap labor, but inevitably foreign methods and ways of doing business will be passed on. This can only be good for the Vietnamese seafood industry.

Furthermore, foreign money is always welcome. Many Vietnamese seafood companies are no longer government-owned and can therefore seek alternative sources of finance. But loans from Vietnamese banks are now so expensive that this is stifling expansion.

Vietnam’s seafood industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years, and the country is now a major player on the world market. With the continuing inflow of foreign expertise and money it is set to grow even further.


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