Vietnam upbeat on pangasius exports to US, China as trade war looms large

Published on
August 29, 2018

Vietnam’s pangasius industry is continuing to perform well this year, driven by rising demand from key markets – most prominently, China.

And its potential is even greater given the opportunities it sees as China and the United States continue to face off in an escalating trade war. 

Pangasius is Vietnam’s second-biggest seafood export in terms of value, following shrimp. But the country’s dominance in production of the species makes pangasius the core issue of any strategic discussion in Vietnam’s seafood industry.

And the hot topic in the country these days is the escalating trade war between China and the U.S., which is being watched closely in the Southeast Asia nation.

“We have not been able to immediately assess all possible impacts from the trade war. But our initial thinking is that China and Vietnam are not direct competitors in exporting seafood to the U.S., as they import more than export,” Truong Dinh Hoe, general secretary of Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), told SeafoodSource on the sidelines of the Vietfish conference and expo in Ho Chi Minh City during 22 to 24 August.

The country is on track to get more than USD 2 billion (EUR 1.72 billion) from pangasius exports this year, Vietnamese Agriculture Minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong said in a statement on 21 August.

Even with shipments to the United States dropping after the U.S. imposed high antidumping rates in March 2018, Vietnam actually improved its year-over-year gains from pangasius exports by 19.3 percent in the first seven months of this year, with the total value of those shipments reaching USD 1.2 billion (EUR 1 billion)

In July, the U.S. overthrew China to once again become the biggest pangasius buyer, as it spent USD 58.5 million (EUR 50.4 million) on pangasius – higher than China’s USD 38.4 million (EUR 33.1 million), data from VASEP showed.

The value that Vietnam got from sales to the U.S. from January to July was USD 255.3 million (EUR 219.9 million), rising 15.6 percent from the same period in 2017.

For Vinh Hoan, the world’s biggest pangasius exporter, the trade war is of no current concern, at least as it impacts the company’s sales to the U.S. 

“We have not seen any clear impacts from the trade war to our pangasius products in the U.S.,” a representative from Vinh Hoan told SeafoodSource during Vietfish. “It remains our largest market despite strict rules that we have to follow.”

Vinh Hoan is enjoying much lower antidumping duties for exports to the U.S. than most of its rivals and has long been the biggest pangasius supplier to the U.S. The company’s exports to the U.S. were worth USD 91.5 million (EUR 78.5 million) in the first half of 2018, up 44 percent year-on-year, according to the latest data from Vinh Hoan.

But long-term, Vinh Hoan sees more opportunites in China’s fast-growing market than in U.S., especially as the trade war escalates, the representative said. Prices of U.S. seafood products in China will rise due to higher tariffs. Pangasius is not an alternative to U.S. seafood products, but if prices for U.S. seafood get too high, then pangasius may become the choice of Chinese consumers who prefer paying less for a high-quality product, the Vinh Hoan representative said.

Last year, for the first time in history, China toppled the U.S. to become the biggest market for Vietnamese pangasius products, and China’s taste for pangasius is growing rapidly. In the first seven months of 2018, Vietnam shipped pangasius worth USD 289.8 million (EUR 249.4 million) to China, up 40.6 percent from a year earlier, according to VASEP.

Chinese love river fish and whole fish, so it is a good opportunity for Vietnam to market pangasius, which is farmed near rivers in Mekong Delta, in the most populous country in the world, Nguyen Tien Thong, a research associate with analytics firm Syntesa, told an industry conference in Vietfish.

But while Chinese consumers are willing to pay more for a product like Vietnam’s pangasius, which has been qualified in U.S. and European Union markets, Thong said despite several technical and commercial hurdles it is facing, Vietnam’s pangasius industry should always view the U.S. and the E.U. as its most important markets, as it will inspire the industry to push for innovations and increase production standards. 

There’s another reason to prioritize the U.S. market: Buyers there pay much higher prices than other countries, a sales executive from a Vietnamese pangasius company said. While his firm has not been able to export pangasius to the U.S. due to the current high antidumping duties the U.S. imposed during the POR 13 [13th administrative review] earlier this year, the executive is hoping that the situation is temporary. Indeed, assessments under POR 14 are under way and many Vietnamese companies are hoping the duties will be low enough for them to return to the U.S., VASEP’s Hoe said.

And as the trade war continues, Vietnam’s pangasius may hit a soft spot in the U.S. market. China sells catfish to the U.S., though it has a different market positioning than pangasius, and Chinese tilapia has seen its demand falling in the U.S. over the past two years. As a result, many in Vietnam’s pangasius industry believe pangasius can nab a much firmer position in the U.S. market, the Vinh Hoan representative added. 

Photo courtesy of Vietfish

Contributing Editor reporting from Hanoi, Vietnam

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