Despite tensions, ASEAN provides boost for China frozen fish exports

Published on
May 15, 2014

China’s seafood processors are nailing down markets in an ever-prosperous Southeast Asia, new figures show. Data from the processing hub of Ningbo for the first four months of this year shows strong growth in shipments to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc.

Shipments of 7,103 metric tons (MT) in the first four months of this year valued at USD 40.3 million (EUR 29.4 million) represents an increase in volume of 42.5 percent. Notably, value per MT at USD 5,651 (EUR 4,121) is up 44.1 percent year-on-year. “It’s a new point of growth for Ningbo…we have to further develop our products to grasp this golden opportunity and seize the ASEAN market,” said a statement provided to Seafoodsource from the Ningbo office of the general Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) which oversees export standards and advises Chinese firms on improving the standards of export products.

A ten-country bloc of 600 million people, ASEAN now accounts for 20.4 percent of total Ningbo seafood exports, worth USD 197.4 million (EUR 144 million) in the first four months. Broken into categories, the big export item to ASEAN is frozen fish fillets. In the first four months of 2014 Ningbo firms shipped USD 23.4 million (EUR 17.1 million), some 58.9 percent of the city’s overall seafood shipments to ASEAN. But there’s also a market for frozen sea cucumbers — 353 MT worth USD 15.05 million (EUR 10.97) were shipped in the first four months of the year according to AQSIQ.

At a time of heightened tension with its Southeast Asian neighbors — especially the Philippines and Vietnam — over sea and drilling rights, China seems to be winning on price but also benefits from low tariff access thanks to the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA), which went into full effect on 1 January 2010.

After a build-out of cannery facilities, aided by local government grants, the east coast city of Ningbo has a stated goal of becoming a world hub for tuna processing, canning and exporting the catches of big Chinese fishing companies like Kaichuang Marine, based in nearby Shanghai.

Some in Ningbo put local export success down to government support as today local firms are also seeking to satisfy European demand for salmon: Ningbo Nanfang Aquatic Food Co this month sent its first shipment to the EU market: 14.2 MT of canned salmon to the U.K. The USD 52,000 (EUR 37,877) comes after “advice from the local ASIQ office on how to meet the quality standards of the EU,” according to Ningbo Nanfang.

More economically dynamic than traditional Western markets, ASEAN could prove a long-term alternative market for Chinese exporters. Investment in infrastructure seems to have paid off for China, facilitating more efficient delivery of product, according to Simon Baptist, chief Asia economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research arm of the Economist magazine. “China is now the number one trading partner for most ASEAN states,” he explained to SeafoodSource. With ethnic ties to the region (11 percent of Thais and 23 percent of Malaysians are ethnic Chinese) and long-standing trade ties to border countries in particular, China is fastening its grip on ASEAN countries, who now rank in half the top ten destinations for Chinese tourists — this helps build business ties, added Baptist.

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