Vietnam aims to tighten control of cross-border pangasius exports to China

Published on
April 26, 2018

Amid rapid growth of pangasius exports to China, Vietnam is looking to tighten cross-border export regulations to make sure only high-quality products are allowed to enter its most important market.

In January, Vietnam exported pangasius volumes worth USD 41 million (EUR 33.5 million) to China, up 132 percent from January 2017. More than half of the export volume came through ocean shipping, with the rest through land borders. 

During a recent ministry conference, Vietnamese Vice Agriculture Minister Vu Van Tam called on relevant ministries and agencies to jointly find ways to increase pangasius exports through ocean shipping by large exporters and initiate measures to more tightly control cross-border shipments made by small traders. The National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department has been directed to coordinate with other ministries and agencies on the issues, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said in a statement.

“We do not ban cross-border trade but it is necessary to tightly control it to create a fair playground between cross-border trade and ocean shipping in order to protect the prestige of our pangasius products and highlight the position of the industry,” local media quoted Tam as saying at the conference.

The move came after the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) in March sent a letter to the Agriculture Ministry, asking it to tighten control of shipments of pangasius through land borders with China. A certain amount of cross-border trade between two neighboring countries is inevitable, VASEP said, but the type and amount of pangasius cross-border exports from Vietnam to China have triggered concerns. The quality of the cross-border shipments by the individual traders is apparently a concern to VASEP, as the value of their exports is very low compared with the ocean shipping by large companies.

VASEP identified nine other Vietnamese traders exporting pangasius products through China’s land borders. They accounted for 47 percent of the country’s total pangasius export volumes to China in January, but just 23 percent of the total value of Vietnam’s pangasius exports. The average cross-border export price was USD 1.00 (EUR 0.82) per kilogram lower than the ocean shipping channel, according to VASEP. 

The association, however, did not clarify the nationalities of the traders. Top Vietnamese exporter Vinh Hoan Corp. said in March that all of its pangasius shipments to China were conducted by large ocean liners. Chinese individual traders often travel to Vietnam to buy agriculture products illegally and export to China. They sometimes hire Vietnamese traders to do the job to avoid crackdowns by Vietnamese authorities.

VASEP Deputy General Secretary Nguyen Hoai Nam told attendees at a government conference in late March that many Vietnamese and Chinese individual traders buy low-quality and cheap pangasius and export it to China via land borders. He worried that this might damage the image of Vietnamese pangasius because media reports in China have started to raise questions about the quality of Vietnamese pangasius, Vietnamese media reported.

China has now become a developed market, which demands high-quality products, VASEP General Secretary Truong Dinh Hoe said at a separate government conference on 23 April, according to media reports. Hoe was quoted as saying that Chinese customers are very sensitive in regard to product safety and sanitation issues. Hoe also said many Chinese individual traders came to Vietnam to buy pangasius and that they don’t care about the quality of the products they buy.

“If we fail to take control of the [cross-border] exports of pangasius to China, the image of our pangasius may be damaged in other markets,” Hoe said.

In the letter in March, VASEP asked the Agriculture Ministry to consider issuing product quality certificates for pangasius cargoes to China through land borders. The association also recommended the ministry initiate inspections of small pangasius processing and semi-processing plants to ensure their products  are meeting safety and hygiene standards. The measures would also have the benefit of ensuring pangasius is processed inside Vietnam, instead of traveling to China for processing, the letter said.

VASEP also called on the ministry to start working on a long-term development strategy for exports of pangasius to China, including the creating of marketing programs designed to promote pangasius and other Vietnamese seafood products in the world’s most populous country, VASEP added.

In the past year, China’s importance to Vietnam as a seafood trading partner has grown even larger. China imported pangasius products worth nearly USD 411 million (EUR 336.5 million) last year, up 34.8 percent year-on-year, making it the biggest recipient of Vietnamese pangasius products, surpassing two major markets of the United States and European Union, VASEP data showed.

Photo courtesy of Vietnam News Service

Reporting from Hanoi, Vietnam

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