2016 export numbers showing China growing more competitive

Published on
December 29, 2016

Chinese tilapia exports are at a four-year low, while imports from the United States have fallen sharply in 2016. But the devaluation of the yuan and other factors are helping improve China’s competitiveness as a seafood exporter, data for the first 10 months of the year show.

A presentation this week at a conference in Jilin, hosted by the Fisheries Bureau of the Chinese Agricultural Ministry and China’s national Fisheries Academy, showed overall increases in China’s seafood exports for 2016. According to the presentation, total exports, at 3.37 million tons, were worth USD 16.6 billion (EUR 15.9 billion) from January to October this year, an increase of 4.5 percent and 2.6 percent on the same period last year.

Imports of 3.1 million tons were worth USD 7.7 billion (EUR 7.4 billion), an increase of 1.64 percent and 4.96 percent, respectively. China’s seafood trade surplus was USD 8.9 billion (EUR 8.5 billion), up by USD 53 million (EUR 50.7 million), according to data presented at the conference.

Imports from the United States – China’s second largest supplier after Russia – have fallen sharply, down 6.17 percent in tonnage and 2.30 percent in value terms over the same period last year, to 4.1 million tons worth USD 1.03 billion (EUR 984 million).

Chinese exports are being driven by better demand for locally farmed product. Processed exports of 909,300 tons rose 0.48 percent, but slipped 1.47 percent in value terms, to USD 4.1 billion (EUR 3.9 billion). The category accounted for 24.87 percent of overall seafood exports, down 1.02 percentage points. Of that figure, 741,000 tons came from imported material for re-export, worth USD 3.16 billion (EUR 3 billion).

“General trade” exports – a category that includes shrimp and unprocessed or fileted and unprocessed locally produced fish – at 2.4 million tons were worth USD 12.4 billion (EUR 11.9 billion), an increase of 8.59 percent and 4.21 percent, respectively. However export demand for both eel and tilapia remains weak, according to a ministry statement accompanying the data.

Exporters of eel – traditionally shipments went to Japan – have been hurt the most, with export volumes and prices – both of which have been falling for five years now - down by 25.58 percent and 36.51 percent, respectively, year-on-year.

Japan was the top destination for Chinese seafood exports in the first 10 months of 2016, accounting for almost half of the total, followed by the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc. But the strongest growth was recorded in exports to the fourth-largest market, the EU; Shipments to the bloc rose 10.87 percent in volume and 5.8 percent in value terms year-on-year. Shipments to the U.S. rose 0.57 percent in volume, but fell 3.56 in value terms in the same period.

Tilapia exporters in China appear to be suffering, according to this data. Export volumes of tilapia in the first 10 months of 2016 dropped to the lowest point in four years. Total exported volume is down 18 percent and total value is down 18.29 percent compared to 2014, when tilapia exports grew. This contraction in tilapia shipments pushed China’s overall U.S. seafood sales down 3.56 percent in the first 10 months of this year.

Exports of Chinese crabs are also continuing a downward trend, falling 4.30 percent and 4.71 percent respectively. This partly relates to tighter inspections by Hong Kong, a major market for Chinese freshwater crabs.

Looking at key markets for Chinese seafood, the statement stresses that this year has not shown the “feebleness” of 2015. While sales to the U.S.A., ASEAN and Hong Kong contracted, there was growth elsewhere. While ASEAN sales fell 0.29 percent in value terms, a fall-off in shipments of tuna and scallops to Southeast Asia may suggest growth in consumption of both categories by domestic consumers in China. Thailand, China’s top market in ASEAN, accounted for 40.61 percent of volume, but in the first 10 months of this year, shipments were down 4.6 percent in volume terms to USD 914 million (EUR 874 million). China has also been shipping less cuttlefish, squid and octopus to major Thai distributors and packagers as consumption rises at home.

China’s seafood imports in the first 10 months at 3.4 million tons were worth USD 7.7 billion (EUR 7.4 billion), up 1.64 percent and 4.96 percent, respectively. Within that headline figure, raw materials for processing at 93.85 million tons and USD 1.88 billion in value were down 4.28 percent and 3.77 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, domestic consumption – filed under the “general trade” category – dropped by 4.15 percent in tonnage to 642,200 tons but rose 9.84 percent in value terms to USD 2.8 billion (EUR 2.7 billion).

Also within the imports overall figure, fishmeal imports rose by 15.02 percent to 92.71 million tons and rose 1.35 percent in value to USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.4 billion) compared to the first 10 months of 2015.

Imports from key fishmeal supplier Peru fell 17 percent in volume and 20.85 percent in value from January to October this year. By contrast, the ASEAN region saw its seafood exports to China rise 17.8 percent to USD 1 billion (EUR 956 million) in value terms, while in tonnage, the bloc’s sales to China rose 24 percent to 5.1 million tons in the first 10 months of the year.

Chile also saw massive growth in shipments of seafood to China, upping its Chinese exports by 16.2 percent in volume and 19.4 percent in value. While its tonnage is massive at 1.4 million tons, its value at USD 424 million (EUR 406 million) is just behind that of Canada at USD 507 million (EUR 485 million). Canada accomplished that feat by shipping 784,000 tons of seafood to China in the first 10 months of this year, about half the total tonnage Chile sent to China.

While Chile’s tonnage is helped by fishmeal shipments, its success in shipping salmon to China will be tested next year with the expected normalization of Sino-Norwegian ties announced earlier this month.

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