China new target of Australia seafood exports

Published on
November 14, 2014

Australia’s seafood exports continue to grow as the country focuses on shipping more seafood to China, Hong Kong and Japan.

China, in particular, represents a growing export market, particularly since the country buys nearly 100 percent of Western Australia’s rock lobster, according to a recent report from agribusiness research firm Rabobank International, “Smooth Sailing for the Australian Seafood Industry.”

“Australia is an example of a frontrunner when it comes to capturing the rising demand of high-end seafood by the Chinese consumer,” Gorjan Nikolik, associate director of animal protein for Rabobank, told SeafoodSource. “With the enormous population of China and people moving towards the coastline, leading to better logistics, and the typical attitude of the Chinese that consuming high-end seafood is not just about the health, but it is about the pride and prestige [exports to China will continue to grow].”

While Australian suppliers of rock lobster, bluefin tuna and other wild seafood species want to export more to China, they face tariff challenges. New Zealand does not pay any tariffs as part of its free trade agreement (FTA) with the country, but Australia pays a 15 percent tariff on seafood exports to China. The Australian government has said that a FTA with China will likely be put in place this year. Even after the FTA is passed, continual work on supply chain agreements and building strong relationships is critical for the sector, the report said.

“While the market signals suggest very strong demand from China into the future, it is imperative that the Western Australia brand is promoted and leveraged. At around AUD 100/kilogram (USD 87.18; EUR 69.89) wholesale, the product is clearly a premium item and, although demand from Chinese consumers is as strong as ever, developing trade and brand strategies is crucial to assure the highest product quality and long-term future of the trade,” the report stated.

While there is renewed focus on China, it is certainly not the largest export market for Australia seafood. In fact, Australia exported 7.6 million kg of seafood to Hong Kong in 2013 versus 1.9 million kg to China in 2013. Australia exported the most seafood to Japan in 2013 at 13 million kg, along with 8.5 million kg to Vietnam and 842,645 kg to the United States, according to Rabobank.

“Hong Kong seafood consumption is much more than double that of China,” Nikolik said. Plus, he added, Hong Kong consumers desire high-end seafood — both imports and domestic seafood, including Asian sea bass, abalone and mantis shrimp.

China is also a potential growth market for Australia’s bluefin tuna which is forecast to reach AUD 158 million (USD 137.7 million) for the 2014-2015 season, according to Rabobank. Japan is by far the biggest importer of bluefin tuna, but suppliers are looking to China because the weak Japanese economy has created some of the lowest Southern bluefin tuna prices in years, according to Rabobank.

“The last couple of years haven’t been that good with the devaluation of the yen and declining seafood consumption per capita. One of the things to do is to look at where else to market the ‘queen of sushi,’” Nikolik said. While Chinese consumers in general are not as anxious to eat raw fish as Japanese consumers, Australian exporters would do well to target the “very high end market” in China that desires Bluefin tuna, Nikolik added.

Contributing Editor

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