China sees bounce back in western export demand

Published on
February 27, 2014

China’s seafood exporters are hopeful that strong growth has returned to the Western export markets, after strong data was published for January by a bellwether seafood processing and production region. The southeasterly province of Shandong in January shipped 236,000 metric tons (MT) of seafood worth USD 760 million (EUR 555.7 million) — an increase of 6.2 percent and 12.3 percent respectively.

The strongest growth however was recorded for shipments to the EU and U.S., with 18,000 MT worth USD 81.4 million (EUR 59.5 million) shipped to the latter according to data provided by the provincial Ocean & Fisheries Bureau. That’s a year-on-year growth of 52.7 percent and 32 percent, respectively. The EU meanwhile bought 35,000 MT worth USD 120 million (EUR 87.8 million), up 49.7 percent and 39.2 percent, respectively.

Other key markets performed well, but not as strongly as the two key western blocs. Japan bought 39,000 MT of Shandong seafood in January, paying USD 210 million (EUR 153.6 million), up 10.7 percent and 4.6 percent respectively year-on-year. Korea accounted for 13,000 MT (USD 46.6 million, EUR 34 million), a rise of 17.3 percent and 16.9 percent, respectively, year-on-year.

China’s state-run media has made much this month of a recovery in western markets as a driver of demand for China’s overall exports. But a worrying note of caution for the seafood sector was sounded by a leading trade official who warned the sector needs to improve quality in order to combat rising competition from Southeast Asia producers in particular.

China has to improve “oversight mechanisms and testing” of seafood production and clamp down on residues in seafood products, according to Xiao Wei, head of research at the China International Trade Research Centre in Beijing. He warns that western markets will increasingly use quality concerns “as a reason to block” Chinese imports. But he also warns that the increasing similarity in composition of exports from China and Southeast Asia peers like Thailand and Vietnam means China has to raise standards to compete.

Data published by food safety and inspection authorities in some of China’s leading seafood producing regions suggests all is well. The provincial authorities in both Shandong and Zhejiang provinces have claimed a 100 percent and a 99.4 percent pass rate respectively in the latest publication of seafood product testing results.

Praising the safety of his province’s seafood products, Shuyang Yue, deputy director of Zhejiang’s Ocean & Fisheries Bureau said while the province had problems with “serious” water pollution it had also changed and prolonged the “production cycles of aquaculture” in order to reduce the average monthly amount of excrement produced by the aquaculture sector. 

Illustrative perhaps of the gap between official pronouncements and reality — and the challenges facing food safety enforcers in China — is a recent court case in the huge southwesterly city of Chengdu where a seafood wholesaler was jailed for eight months for using banned chemicals to fresh his produce. Dai Ting Fu used hydrogen peroxide and sodium peroxide since 2006 to freshen the smell and appearance of squid and other products sold to local restaurants in the district of Qionglai. Dai told the court he was introduced to the chemicals by a seafood supplier, according to a report of the case published in the Chengdu Business Daily.

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