China’s seafood imports surged in 2017, while its export growth continues to slow

Published on
March 14, 2018

China is continuing its rapid transition from a net exporter of seafood into a net importer.

China exported 4.23 million metric tons (MT) of seafood in 2017, while importing 4.89 million MT.

China’s exports rose 2.4 percent year-on-year by volume and 1.9 percent in value, reaching at USD 21.15 billion (EUR 17.05 billion), while its imports skyrocketed by 21.7 in volume and 21.03 percent in value, to USD 11.13 billion (EUR 911.93 million).

There continues to be a narrowing of China’s trade surplus in seafood – dropping by USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.2 billion) to USD 9.8 billion (EUR 7.9 billion) in 2017. 

Export growth appears slower compared to 2016 and is way off the double-digit growth of the past decades (China averaged 15 percent growth in value terms between 2001 and 2011). In 2016, China exported 42.3 million MT worth USD 20.73 billion (EUR 16.73 billion), up 4.37 percent and 1.99 percent, respectively, while imports of 4.04 million MT were down 0.98 percent. Imports were up 4.37 percent in value terms at USD 9.37 billion (EUR 7.56 billion), partly as the result of a surge in fishmeal imports, which went up 51.5 percent in volume to 1.57 million MT and rose 37.4 percent in value to USD 2.21 billion (EUR 1.78 billion). 

In 2017, the total volume of products imported for processing was down 4.96 percent to 1.04 million MT, but up in 9.57 in value to USD 2.4 billion (EUR 1.94 billion). Non-processed or lightly processed product accounted for 70.7 percent of exports in volume terms in 2017, a rise of 1.6 percent on the previous year, while this category rose 1.32 percent year-on-year in value terms to reach USD 15.6 billion (EUR 12.59 billion) in value, or 73.9 percent of overall exports in value terms. 

Squid remains a massive export trade for China, which has been sending vessels into waters around the world to increase its catch. Cephalopods remain China’s top export category, accounting for 21 percent of total shipments in value terms in 2017. Exports of cephalopods reached 498,000 MT in 2017, up 5.61 percent, and were worth USD 3.3 billion (EUR 2.66 billion), up 6.17 percent. 

The second-largest export category, shrimp, accounted for 12.2 percent of overall exports and 162,200 MT worth USD 1.91 billion (EUR 1.54 billion) were up 4.58 percent and 8.35 percent, respectively, on the previous year’s figures. 

Shellfish ranked as the third-most important export category, reaching 8.41 percent of total exports, though its volumes were down. Shellfish exports sucnk 10.6 percent in volume to 234,000 tons and dropped 7.6 percent in value to USD 1.31 billion (USD 207.5 million, EUR 167.7 million).   

The fastest-growing export item in 2017 was mackerel (Pneumatophorus japonicas), which hit 16.27 percent growth in volume to 370,700 MT and had a 16.2 percent surge in value to USD 720 million (EUR 581 million). 

Eel, crayfish, and croaker all experienced a tapering-off in exports in 2017 as domestic consumption in China continued to rise. Having long been staples of China’s trade in farmed seafood, these high-value species look increasingly set to stay home. 

Exports of freshwater crayfish fell by 11.8 percent to 18,900 MT while dropping value to USD 214 million (EUR 172.7 million). Crayfish counts for 1.37 percent of China’s overall seafood exports. Exports of yellow croaker, at 1.37 percent of overall exports, also tailed off, falling by 11.8 percent to 31,300 MT worth USD 214 million (EUR 172.7 million), down 8.26 percent.  

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