Norwegian salmon exporters feel China’s wrath

Norway’s salmon exports to China continue to be impacted by difficult diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Norwegian exporters have had to watch the Chinese salmon market grow 30 percent while Norway’s share has been eaten up by newcomers like Scotland. 

“We are in a very difficult situation now. Importers, distributors, everyone is finding it very difficult to get Norwegian salmon,” said Sigmund Bjorgo, director of China and Hong Kong at the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC). 

Volume from Norway shrunk 60 percent in 2011, largely due to new veterinary inspections that made access to the Chinese market much more difficult. Observers see the stricter inspections as retaliation by China for last year’s Nobel peace prize being awarded to a Chinese dissident in Oslo (by the non-government Nobel committee).

Meanwhile, other salmon importers, including the Faroe Islands, Denmark and Australia, have also reported increased scrutiny, said Bjorgo. Now, he explained, Norwegian salmon imports are running behind 2010 levels “in a growing market,” while newcomer Scotland has become a “big player.”

Norwegian food safety authorities have sought to organize meetings between the Norwegian and Chinese food safety and veterinary offices but so far has been unable to confirm meetings with the Beijing side. “We are positive it can be resolved but don’t know the time frame,” said Bjorgo, adding that Norway will continue to invest in growing its presence in China. His office is in a transitional period this year while it waits to appoint a new local PR firm to head its mainland China marketing campaign.

Norway 15 years ago was the first country to import Atlantic salmon to China and has since invested RMB 200 million in marketing, “growing the market and educating the market on different elements of the value chain. Norway has been a driver of salmon market in China,” said Bjorgo.

The United States and Russia account for the bulk of China’s salmon imports, but this is largely frozen Pacific salmon that mainly goes to processing and re-export, explained Bjorgo. “For local consumption in China, which is raw salmon consumption, this is mainly fresh Atlantic salmon,” he said.

Through the end of April, Norway recorded an increase in seafood exports of 11 percent in volume and 15 percent in value to China — these figures have been aided by demand for mackerel for processing and re-export to the EU and Japanese markets. Likewise, demand for cod and haddock has remained strong. Research by Bjorgo’s office has shown an increase in frozen packaged seafood on the domestic market. However, the domestic Chinese market share of Norwegian imports remains minimal.

NSC research has also shown 80 percent of salmon consumed in China is eaten raw while 50 percent of salmon is consumed at Japanese restaurants. “Salmon is very aspirational”, said Bjorog, adding that sashimi is the preferred way of consumption over sushi, which is seen as a more filling, cheaper offering.


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