Thai seafood execs warn protectionism will hurt American exporters

Published on
October 19, 2017

A leading Thai tuna industry figure has warned against trade wars between Thailand and Western partners, including the United States. 

Chanintr Chalisarapong, president of the Thai Tuna Industry Association, addressed a recent visit to Thailand by a delegation of U.S. exporters, which SeafoodSource joined. Also in attendance were representatives of the Thai Frozen Foods Association and the Fisheries Committee of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

“For the tuna industry, we want a fair and free trade,” Chalisarapong said. “Thailand is the No. 1 supplier for canned fish. But we are also the No. 1 buyer from tuna boats. And we buy five million salmon, for import and re-export, also salmon for domestic consumption and supermarkets. We are already buying Alaskan salmon for canning.”

Also at the meeting, Viboon Suparkarponkul, vice president of the Frozen Foods Association and a senior executive at Charoen Pokphand, outlined the opportunities for U.S. suppliers in Thailand.

 “Thais are more concerned about food safety now,” he said. “We have to import more fish. Up to now the raw materials have been from Asia. But now there is a great opportunity for U.S. exporters.” 

Somsak Paneetatyousai, chairman of the Thai Shrimp Association, agreed that Thailand definitely presented an opportunity for U.S. exporters. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc (of which Thailand is part) is a market of 600 million people, Paneetatyousai stressed.

“We want to be at the center of ASEAN,” he said.

However, Paneetatyousai said the ASEAN bloc still had to be approached with eyes open.

“The relative absence of refrigeration makes developing countries a difficult market to tap,” he said.

Paneetatyousai echoed the feelings of many Thai seafood executives by expressing frustration with increasingly protectionist trade policies espoused by U.S. and European Union governing bodies.

 “We don’t support protective policies,” he said. 

He said Europe’s policies toward its seafood imports have been especially harmful to Thailand.

“Europe has a policy of very high tariffs for those apart from its former colonies,” he said. “Therefore the trend is for us to increase trade with North America and ASEAN. Also with Australia.” 

Thailand is currently negotiating trade deal with Chile, said Paneetatyousai – something which could drive imports of coho salmon, he predicted.

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