A free trade agreement with China as well as difficulties faced by Norway are both driving imports of Chilean salmon, according to Chile’s chief trade official in Beijing.
“Chinese companies are increasingly flying to Chile seeking salmon supplies,” said Gonzalo Matamala, China representative of ProChile, the Chilean government trade board.
He expects a major ramp-up in shipments of fresh salmon into China from Chile in the first half of 2013. “The free trade agreement between Chile and China means that the margins enjoyed by importers are good, despite the long freight distance.” Likewise, Chinese authorities have been “very helpful” in facilitating Chilean importers: “Transshipment is for instance an issue as there are no direct flights between Chile and China.”
Chinese demand is compensating for a dip in Japanese prices for salmon in 2012, said Matamala. While helping to facilitate shipments of fresh salmon, his office has also been attempting to educate Chinese importers and consumers on the benefits of frozen salmon. Matamala is concentrating on smaller cities where cold chain systems are less developed, hoping to drive demand for frozen salmon in these fast-growing urban centers.
“We’re reaching out to supermarkets and F&B customers to convince them that frozen product is easier to handle and also potentially more profitable,” he said.
While he concedes that Chinese consumers have tended to consume salmon fresh and outside the home, Matamala has focused on the smaller cities in the same regions as ProChile’s three offices in China: Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. He’ll oversee a cooking demonstration in Tianjin (100 kilometers east of Beijing) in June featuring well-known Chinese chefs demonstrating how to prepare Chinese dishes using Chilean seafood.
Another priority in 2013 will be promoting Chilean lobster in China. Matamala believes Chilean lobsters are similar in quality to Australian lobsters, which are very popular with high-end Chinese buyers. “We’ve seen an opening in the market, and we believe our season comes at a slightly different time to the Australian season, hence there’s an opportunity.”
Demand from China has helped fishing communities, such as the region of Juan Fernandez, rebuild in the wake of the earthquake that devastated the area in 2010. Matamala believes further success will come from improved branding of the Chilean name. Matmala believes Chilean suppliers have a premium product and can replicate the success of New Zealand in branding its mussels in China. “It took them 20 years to achieve this but we see the potential to do something similar.”
He’s aware however of the challenges faced by smaller countries in the vast Chinese market place where major importers such as the US and Australia have become synonymous with quality. For instance, few Chinese are aware that Chile is the top importer of fruit to China because vendors often label Chilean product as American in order to charge higher prices.
Chinese media has been receptive, says Matamala, but he doesn’t want journalists to report it as a ‘Chile v’s Norway’ battle for China. “There’s room enough for everyone in this market,” he says. Indeed China is already a major market for Chile’s USD 4.6 billion (EUR 3.4 billion) worth of seafood exports (2011). Third-largest buyer of Chilean seafood, China’s demand is driven by purchases of industrial seafood products such as fishmeal: 63 percent of Chile’s exports in this category went to Asia in 2011 and of that figure the biggest portion, USD 264 million (EUR 196 million), went to China, with USD 107 million (EUR 79 million) going to No. 2, Japan. China is a smaller player as a customer for Chilean salmonoids in 2011: the country’s number one customer, Japan, bought USD 1.24 billion (EUR 920 million) while fifth-placed China imported USD 83 million (EUR 62 million) worth. Atlantic salmon accounted for 67.5 percent of Chilean seafood exports in 2011 in value terms. Shipments of Atlantic salmon rose from USD 725 million (EUR 538 million) in 2010 to USD 1.21 billion (EUR 890 million) in 2011.