China’s seafood exports struggle for foothold in new markets

Published on
April 8, 2014

Newly released data from one of China’s leading seafood exporting regions shows Chinese exporters have been struggling to build on sales in emerging markets, particularly in Africa. The Provincial Oceanic and Fishery Bureau of Liaoning province shows in January through February 2014 the province — which includes the key processing hub/port of Dalian — recorded a total international seafood trade of 243,200 metric tons (MT), worth USD 593 million (EUR 430 million), representing a year-on-year decrease of 15.3 percent and 3.7 percent respectively.

Exports totaled 113,100 MT in the first two months of the year, worth USD 417 million (EUR 302 million), down 3.7 percent and an increase of 2.8 percent. Imports of 130,000 MT worth USD 177 million (EUR 128.2 million) represented a decrease of 23.3 percent and 16.3 percent, respectively. While the data will be skewered somewhat by the Chinese New Year festival, which fell in early February, there appears to have been a fall-off in growth from new export markets which have been trumpeted by Chinese exporters and officials as an alternative to weak Western demand.

It’s clear that Liaoning — one of China’s top three seafood producing and exporting regions — has been diversifying its customer base: seafood exporters exported to 81 countries in the first two months of 2014, an increase of 13 countries. The bulk of the new markets were in Europe: 35 countries, an increase of six countries over last year with Germany and Poland ranking as two top markets in volume terms.

Growth in exports to Africa meanwhile appear to have slipped back: while Liaoning exports to nine countries — two more than the same period last year — export volumes amounted to 9,416 MT, valued at USD 5.8 million (EUR 4.2 million), a decrease of 44.9 percent year-on-year. Shipments to the top market, Nigeria, at 8,221 MT (USD 4.2 million, EUR 3 million) were down 47.7 percent year-on-year (49 percent in value). The drop appears consistent with news reports in the Chinese media this year of a shut-out of tilapia fillets and other low-end Chinese seafood imports by Nigeria due to that country’s eagerness to build up its own fisheries sector.

There was better news from the 14 countries in Latin America, which bought 16,000 MT, up 4 percent in volume terms and 30 percent in value terms to USD 53 million (EUR 38.4 million). China has favorable trade ties with several key economies in the region, including Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. The Asian market (19 countries, three more than last year) provided the best growth for Liaoning’s exports in January and February, taking 48,900 MT for USD 175 million (EUR 126.8 million) up 14.3 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively year-on-year. This will no doubt have been helped by solid demand from Korea and Japan, which are also geographically close to Liaoning, while free trade access to Southeast Asia continues to help Chinese exporters.

At 20,900 MT worth USD 103 million (EUR 75 million) shipments to North America decreased by 5.5 percent and 6.1 percent year-on-year. Appearing to opt for cheaper products, buyers in Europe meanwhile accounted for 17,200 MT worth USD 66 million (EUR 47.8 million), a drop of 12 percent and 8.1 percent respectively.

Nationally, China’s seafood exports appeared to have softened in the first two months of the year, mirroring a weakening of the country’s overall exports sector. China shipped 550,000 MT of aquatic products worth USD 2.98 billion (EUR 2.2 billion), in January and February combined, down 7.9 percent and 9.1 percent respectively.

That’s according to data from the country’s customs authorities, which also reported that China’s overall exports tumbled in February by 18.1 percent year-on-year, after jumping 10.6 percent in January. Combined January-February exports were down 1.6 percent on the previous year having jumped 7.3 percent year-on-year in the same period in 2013.

Even while discounting for the Chinese New Year break in production, the country’s overall trade figures have been taken as evidence of further weakening of China’s economy, even as Chinese policy makers have talked up the positive effects of a recovery in western demand on China’s export industries such as processed seafood.

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