An apparent coronavirus-related slowdown in customs processing in China is hampering exporters accessing the country’s seafood markets.
Indian seafood exporters have noticed a slowdown in checks at Chinese customs, which is backing up containers of inbound Indian shrimp, according to The Hindu BusinessLine. The average checking time has gone from three to 10 days, making Chinese buyers hesitant, according to Indian seafood exporters, some of whom suspect deliberate Chinese foot-dragging is related to a Sino-Indian border conflict in the Himalayas.
Yet non-Indian shippers are experiencing similar delays.
“China custom seems to have started a zealous strike. Many containers are blocked on the harbor apparently for coronavirus tracing,” Didier Boon, a long-time veteran of the Chinese seafood market, told SeafoodSource. Beijing-based Boon runs East China Seas, which imports Latin American seafood into China and ships product from China to international markets.
China has restricted imports from food processing plants worldwide where coronavirus outbreaks have been recorded among workers. On 10 July, China suspended imports of frozen shrimp processed by three Ecuadorian companies after detecting traces of COVID-19 in recent shipments of their products. Tests of samples taken from the outer packaging and containers of shipments from Industrial Pesquera Santa Priscila SA, Empacreci SA, and Empacadora Del Pacifico Sociedad Anonima Edpacif had produced six positive results, though tests on the shrimp and inner packaging were negative, according to China’s General Administration of Customs, Reuters reported.
However, the continued linking of coronavirus with food imports by China’s state-controlled media has rankled international seafood suppliers and the U.S. government.
“Efforts by some countries to restrict global food exports related to COVID-19 transmission are not consistent with the known science of transmission,” a joint statement this week from U.S. Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue and Food and Drug Administration Director Stephen Hahn. “There is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or from food packaging.”
At the same time, China-based seafood exporters continue to suffer from falling external demand.
“Various containers [have been] canceled,” Boon said. “Our sales to Latin America are also very much affected, as you can imagine. But ... there’s another six months this year to catch up, so hopefully [it will improve].”
Chinese retaliatory actions against Indian imports may be limited by a huge trade imbalance in Beijing’s favor, which could trigger retaliation in kind by Delhi. China is the number-two buyer of Indian seafood exports after the U.S.A., which has seen its demand soften due to COVID-19-related closures of foodservice outlets. Shipments to China rose to USD 1 billion (EUR 884.7 million) in 2019 from USD 708 million (EUR 626.3 million) in 2018 in part due to pressure on China to buy more Indian products to address a trade deficit which stood at USD 57 billion (EUR 50.4 billion) out of a total trade relationship of USD 92.5 billion (EUR 81.8 billion).
Photo courtesy of People's Republic of China General Administration of Customs