China not providing expected boost for stalled Vietnamese exporters

Chinese Consul General in Vietnam Wei Huaxiang.

Dealing with an inflation-ravaged global economy, Vietnamese seafood exporters have not received what they expected to be a major boost from the reopening of China thus far in 2023.

After achieving an all-time record value of USD 11 billion (EUR 10.2 billion) in 2022, Vietnam’s seafood exports have stalled thus far in 2023. In February, Vietnam shipped seafood worth USD 610 million (EUR 565.8 million), up 33.4 percent from January. The country’s industry trade group, Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), warned, however, that the increase should not be considered as a sign of growth, as the monthly total was still down 3.6 percent year-on-year.

In the first two months of 2023, Vietnam’s seafood export value was 29.1 percent lower year-on-year at USD 1.06 billion (EUR 983.2 million). Shrimp sales had fallen 37 percent to USD 350.1 million (EUR 324.7 million), pangasius sales plummeted 38 percent to USD 239.8 million (EUR 222.4 million), and tuna sales dropped 27 percent to USD 112.8 million (EUR 104.6 million), 27 percent lower year-on-year, according to Vietnam Customs.

Sales to Japan were down 10 percent to USD 186.4 million (EUR 172.8 million); sales to the U.S. sank 55.3 percent, to USD 154.5 million (EUR 143.3 million); South Korean sales dived 14.5 percent, to USD 104.1 million (EUR 96.5 million); U.K. sales slid 15.1 percent, to USD 37.2 million (EUR 34.5 million); German sales were down 21.1 percent, to USD 26.1 million (EUR 24.2 million); sales to the Netherlands were halved to USD 21.4 million (EUR 19.8 million); and sales to Canada fell 66.8 percent, to USD 19.9 million (EUR 18.4 million).

But the data that many in Vietnam’s seafood industry were most anticipating, and which proved most disappointing, were Vietnam’s seafood sales to China, which dropped 10.8 percent in the first two months of 2023 to USD 126.4 million (EUR 117.2 million).

Vietnam’s leading pangasius exporter, Vinh Hoan, saw its sales value from China fall 3 percent year-on-year to VND 70 billion (USD 2.96 million, EUR 2.75 million) in February.

The data came as a surprise, as China had eliminated its strict pandemic-related import restrictions earlier this year. In 2022, China was Vietnam’s top trading partner, with a total bilateral trade value of USD 175.6 billion (EUR 162.8 billion), up 5.9 percent from 2021. China (including Hong Kong) was the second-largest buyer of seafood from Vietnam last year, after the U.S., with the sales value surging 59 percent to USD 1.8 billion (EUR 1.7 billion).

In response, on 8 March, Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and VASEP conducted a seminar with Chinese officials and trading firms to discuss the augmentation of trade in seafood and other agricultural products to China, especially to China’s Guangxi province. The meeting was a follow-up to a separate seminar held in January by the Guangxi Department of Commerce and Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade …

Photo courtesy of China Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City

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