Seafish helps bridge gap to China for smaller UK companies

Published on
October 31, 2019

Seafish, a public body supporting the United Kingdom's seafood industry, is once again helping facilitate companies that want to have a presence in China through the China Fisheries show in Qingdao, China. 

This year, 14 companies – some of which have never exhibited before – made it to the U.K. pavilion. The companies include diverse product offerings – with a heavy emphasis on shellfish – and come from all corners of the U.K. including Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

It's easy to understand why companies in the U.K. would want to target Chinese buyers, according to Seafish Chief Executive Marcus Coleman. For one, imports have jumped massively in China in recent years, with all projections pointing to even further increases over the next decade. As the United Kingdom exports roughly 70 percent of what it catches, finding a partner in China can mean big success for companies, Coleman said.

“There’s a lot of success being had by U.K. companies coming to China to export their products,” he explained to SeafoodSource.  

Roughly 5.5 percent of the U.K.’s exports go to China, with a value of roughly GBP 142 million (EUR 164 million, USD 182.8 million). That number is relatively small compared to the consumption in China – which is only growing – however, it’s also double what it was in 2015, with no signs that it will be slowing down.

“The Chinese import market seems to be, by all accounts, growing pretty rapidly,” Coleman said.

The goal of Seafish, he said, is to facilitate making the jump to China, something that smaller to mid-sized companies could struggle to do on their own. Negotiating import regulations and finding a partner in the country is difficult for a small company to do without help.

“We lower that barrier of difficulty and encourage them to have conversations,” Coleman said.

A key part of building a customer base in China, Coleman added, is forming strong relationships with customers over the course of a few years. Currently, premium shellfish items are in high demand, and more than half of the companies present from the U.K. at the booth deal heavily in it.

Andrew Rooney, of Rooney Fish, has been traveling to China for over 15 years. He views the Chinese market as one that requires long-term relationship building and a higher emphasis on quality products.

“You have to provide your customer with a good quality product no matter what it is to sustain the business,” he told SeafoodSource.

For all the companies present from the U.K., the ongoing saga of Brexit has been hovering over the future trade agreements with China. Because most of the trade agreements with China were negotiated as a part of the European Union, if the U.K. ultimately leaves the E.U., new deals will need to be made.

“Of course that will take time. Some of these trade negotiations have taken years and years and years to negotiate,” Coleman said. “We could find ourselves without a favorable trade deal with some nations for a period of time.”

Other complications, like labor, are also on the mind of many of the exhibitors.

Regardless of the decisions of the government of the U.K., Seafish plans to continue to assist U.K. companies with gaining a foothold in the Chinese market

“If we weren’t here, probably quite a few of these companies would not be here as well,” Coleman said.

Photo courtesy of Chris Chase/SeafoodSource

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