With an expanded U.S. ban on Russian seafood coming into effect that now includes products processed in third countries, Russian exporters are increasingly pivoting to China.
At the 2024 China-Russia Economic and Trade Cooperation Negotiation Conference on 29 and 30 January, in Shenyang, China, 55 contracts worth CNY 13.6 billion (USD 1.9 billion, EUR 1.8 billion) were signed, including several seafood deals. Numerous seafood companies and cold chain logistics firms participated in the trade event, which was organized by the municipal government of Shenyang, a city in Northern China that is positioning itself as a hub for enlarged Sino-Russian trade as Moscow looks east for economic partners.
Footage of the event on provincial TV shows locals eating Russian crab and trying smoked trout in indoor food halls decorated in Russian colors, and Russian food and cultural fairs running in venues across Shenyang.
“Shenyang has been strengthening cooperation with Russia,” the city’s government said in a press release. “Over the past few years, Shenyang has been actively putting effort into cooperation with Russia in areas such as trade and investment, focusing on building a hub of commodities, logistics and information for economic and trade cooperation with Russia.”
According to data from the Shenyang Municipal Commerce Bureau, in 2023, a total of 122 Russia-invested enterprises were approved for establishment in Shenyang, collectively accounting for CNY 4.06 billion (USD 566 million, EUR 524 million) in China-Russia trade, a year-on-year increase of 80.2 percent, with the city’s Russian imports increasing more than 400 percent.
At the opening of the conference, the Communist Party secretary and governor of Liaoning Province – of which Shenyang, and Dalian are part – met visiting Russian officials including Russian Federation Council Vice-Chairman Nikolai Zhuravlev and Russian Export Center General Manager Veronika Nikishina.
For long dubbed as the country’s rust belt, China’s northeast has grasped what it sees as an opportunity to become the center of an enlarged Sino-Russian trade flow in the wake of Moscow’s isolation by its Western trade partners after the invasion of Ukraine.
Processing of terrestrial protein and vegetables, seafood, and petrochemicals have all been identified as opportunities by provinces like Liaoning, which were the centers of China’s industrialization before the economic action moved to southern provinces like Guangdong after China’s economic reforms in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Shenyang has competition for Russian trade from another northern Chinese city, Harbin, which has sought to use the ‘Bin Hai No.1’- a cold chain railway connection from Vladivostok, to enable the city to build a seafood-processing industry at the Harbin Comprehensive Bonded Zone, an industrial park the type of which is more common in port cities like Dalian and Qingdao, where processing of goods can be done for re-export.
Russian seafood production totals rose in 2023 as part of a government-backed effort to up national output. But with the U.S. market increasingly out of reach, Russian exporters are increasingly looking to China to take up the slack.
Rosselkhoznadzor, the Russian food safety watchdog, said in July it was seeking to ease red tape hindering exports to China.
"The Chinese market in general is promising for Russian fish products. We hope to increase the number of certified Russian companies and ships, the volume of products and its range," it said in a statement.
China, South Korea, and Japan are Russia's top seafood markets, with China accounting for more than 50 percent of total exports, though some of that is reprocessed and sent onwards to other countries. In 2023, China served as the top destination for Russian pollock, herring, flounder, sardines, cod, and crab.
Photo courtesy of China-Russia Economic and Trade Cooperation Negotiation Conference