Slump in Q1 exports for key China seafood region

Published on
April 30, 2015

Weak overseas demand and a collapse in “traditional competitive advantages” have been blamed for a downturn in seafood exports from one of China’s key export regions. According to the local bureau of the Ocean and Fisheries Bureau, shipments from Shandong province fell 8.6 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of this year to 220,000 metric tons (MT), slipping 8.3 percent in money terms to USD 970 million (EUR 883 million).

Shandong’s exports to the EU at 52,000 MT were down 12.8 percent and shipments to the United States fell 11.3 percent to 25,000 MT, while only nearby Korea increased its imports from Shandong, buying 31,000 MT, an increase of 2 percent on the same period last year.

Effort from regional governments to ramp up the quality of seafood exports appears to be paying dividends in other seafood exporting regions. The key province of Liaoning has reported exports of 166,700 MT worth USD 815 million (EUR 741 million), up 14 percent and up 16.6 percent, respectively, from the same period last year. 

The local offices of quality and quarantine watchdog General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) are claiming the credit for Liaoning’s performance, pointing to training in quality and food safety management which its offices have given free of charge to local seafood companies. A demonstration zone in Changhai County and also in Lushun (a district of Dalian) are effectively industrial parks housing processing and aquaculture companies, as well as their outlying ponds. In theory, seafood firms across the province come to the park to learn how to improve quality control. AQSIQ officials, meanwhile, have focused on shellfish and algae exporters in another demonstration park in Lushun.

“We have promoted fantastic growth in exports from Lushun,” according to an AQSIQ statement that warned a weaker global economy and the slowdown of the Chinese economy continues to create “very tough conditions” for seafood exporters in Liaoning, home to the huge processing and aquaculture industries built up around the port cities of Dalian and Dandong.

The port city of Weihai in Shandong somewhat bucked the provincial trend by upping exports 1.5 percent to 67,700 MT, though exports were flat year-on-year in value terms at USD 240 million (EUR 218 million). But imports soared 14 percent in volume terms to 32,500 MT and rose 17 percent in value to USD 62 million (EUR 56.4 million) on the same period last year. The processing sector saw strongest growth, rising 16 percent in volume terms to USD 85 million (EUR 77.3 million).

A noticeable trend in the data from Weihai is the fall-off of the foreign-owned seafood exporting sector. Foreign invested firms accounted for USD 100 million (EUR 91 million) of the city’s exports – down 11 percent year-on-year and a smaller stake than that of local private firms that shipped USD 114 million (EUR 103.7 million) worth of seafood in the first quarter of this year, up 5.7 percent. While some foreign invested enterprises are often de facto controlled by local businessmen through offshore companies, the figures appear to confirm a trend of foreign seafood processing firms withdrawing from China as costs rise.

Another interesting trend worth noting in the first-quarter data is the seemingly phenomenal growth in Chinese canned tuna and mackerel. The east coast city of Taizhou, south of Shanghai, shipped 1,677 MT of canned tuna and mackerel in the first quarter, up a phenomenal 113 percent year-on-year. Shipments were up 89.5 percent in value terms to USD 3 million (EUR 2.7 million). “Secure supply” and “stable prices” for tuna and mackerel were credited by the local Ocean and Fisheries Bureau for the growth. Located an hour’s drive from Ningbo, another port city and canning hub, Taizhou has also benefitted from a steady supply of fish from China’s growing long-distance fishing fleet, which supplies canneries with fish from Latin America, Africa and the Indian Ocean.

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