China “on faster pace of rebound” despite grappling with spike in Covid cases
The streets of Beijing have been nearly empty over the past week amid a surge in Covid cases following China’s abrupt reversal of its zero-Covid policy.
Following widespread protests across China beginning in late November, the Chinese government moved to ease some pandemic-related restrictions on Wednesday, 7 December. China’s government is no longer requiring mass testing and has backed down from implementing mass lockdowns and quarantines and mandatory hospitalizations, according to the Associated Press.
Several seafood market players interviewed by SeafoodSource said the country is undergoing a transition period, with a major reopening coming in the new year.
“We are going through a transition period,” Jack Yuan, managing director of WhatFresh, an importer of fresh food and seafood with offices in Hong Kong and mainland China, said. “Previously, people were locked down at home, so they complained about strict government control. Now the government is totally opening up, people are complaining lack of government care. Previously, people wanted to come out, now people are wondering about the dangers of going out and catching Covid.”
Chinese financial markets have rebounded, and the stock prices of listed seafood companies have rallied in response to the announcement. Yuan said investor confidence is well-placed in predicting an economic bounce from the country’s reopening.
“The trend is that over the next two months, China will eventually all open up. Likely by late February and March, foreigners will be able to visit China as before. Of course, this will be subject to Covid variant,” Yuan said. “It’s predicted that China economy will on a faster pace of rebound. I think the seafood market will be back to normal in 2023.”
China’s zero-Covid policy caused massive disruption to both the local economy in China and the global economy. As recently as November 2022, China’s retail sales nationwide were down 5.9 percent year-on-year. Chinese consumers have cut back on spending while Chinese factories have been forced to combat weaker overseas demand and labor shortages due to lockdowns keeping workers at home.
Adjustments in China will take months, and will vary by region, according to Robin Wang, head of SMH International, a seafood marketing agency in Shanghai. Wang told SeafoodSource public transportation, supermarkets, wholesale markets, and office buildings are now more accessible due to scaled-back testing and movement restrictions.
“This is definitely a positive sign, and a psychological boost for residents,” Wang said. “We are seeing different rates of adoption, and it will probably take some more for all cities to catch up. It’s possible this easing will be conducted in stages. So far, the southern part has been adopting changes more quickly, like in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. As more cities and residents respond positively to new measures, it will be easier for other areas to follow.”
Wang said an end to Covid testing of imported meat and seafood as it enters Chinese ports could be part of the next phase of easing.
“Certain steps could be adjusted to streamline product flow,” he said. “Many traders have been looking ahead and planning for more business in 2023. Businesses have reported an uptick in sales for the second half of this year. When daily life normalizes more, it could be reasonable to think testing could be adjusted.”
Wang said there is increased optimism seafood trade will strengthen in 2023.
“With the end of the new year and Spring Festival approaching, there is more optimism with this news and maybe a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Due to the past years, many consumers have held off on larger-ticket items, so I think we will see people spending a bit more spending and loosening their budgets a bit. Consumer spending should be more upbeat, which will give the seafood market a small short-term boost, as it steadily climbs back.”
Watching the situation for Norwegian seafood exporters, Andreas Thorud, head of the Norwegian Seafood Council’s office in China, said Covid controls are being dropped at a fast pace.
“In the very near-term, there exist uncertainties pertaining to how this new phase will unfold. As for Norwegian seafood exports, if we look a bit into 2023, the outlook for a normalized situation is expected to be beneficial both for supply and logistics to the market, as well as from a demand perspective,” Thorud said. “For the latter, it is expected that the key foodservice sector will benefit from having removed uncertainties that have hovered over this sector in the zero-Covid era. In addition, we also believe the increased focus on healthy food and living that has emerged throughout the pandemic has spurred demand to which we see good a fit with Norwegian seafood to build upon in the years to come.”
In order to tap demand trends spurred by pandemic controls, Thorud said his office launched a WeChat video channel in June 2022 and has increased its partnerships key opinion leaders.
“Although foodservice channels are still the main channels [for Norwegian seafood], we have provided simple-to-follow and entertaining recipes for Norwegian salmon, mackerel, and cod for inspiration for home consumption,” he said. “Key topics for consumers are convenience, nutrition, and taste, and we see Norwegian seafood as a good fit to those consumer demands. On our own WeChat video channel, with over 22 videos launched, we have aggregated more than a million views so far this year.”
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