With coronavirus-extended New Year holiday declared over, Ecuador hopes shrimp exports to China rebound

The end of the Chinese New Year holiday – extended in China due to the coronavirus outbreak – will result in a pick-up in economic activity around seafood, according to the Ecuadorian Chamber of Aquaculture (CNA) President José Antonio Camposano.

The outbreak of the mysterious illness, which has killed more than 1,000 people and sickened tens of thousands more, has placed health authorities worldwide on alert and interrupted global commerce. In response to the coronavirus, a number of major airlines have canceled flights to China. In an effort to cull further contagion, officials within the country prolonged the observed Chinese New Year, closed markets, and encouraged people to remain indoors as much as possible, thereby affecting retail purchases and drastically reducing patrons at restaurants – two areas where seafood is heavily sold, forcing suppliers to get creative to deliver goods.

Fallout from the epidemic has also started to hit trading of crab from the Indian state of Kerala and pangasius and shrimp from Vietnam. China’s wet markets have come under increasing pressure in recent years over hygienic concerns, and as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies, sustainability NGOs have called on the Chinese government to ban wildlife food markets in order to prevent the incubation and spread of similar illnesses while also conserving natural resources.

In a press release, Camposano said the declaration ending the holiday will reactivate demand for Ecuadorian shrimp in China. Ecuador is China’s largest shrimp supplier – CNA figures show that Ecuador sent 767.3 million pounds of shrimp to China in 2019, surging 252.3 percent from the 217.8 million pounds shipped in 2018 and representing 54.9 percent of total exports of 1.397 billion pounds sent in 2019. The value of those exports has also soared, jumping 225 percent to USD 1.99 billion (EUR 1.83 billion) when compared to the previous year.

According to CNA’s most recently released statistics, shrimp sales from Ecuador to China have absolutely surged in recent years. Shrimp shipped to China represented a whopping 54.4 percent of Ecuador’s total exports of USD 3.65 billion (EUR 3.36 billion) in 2019, versus just 19.1 percent of Ecuador’s exports of USD 3.2 billion (EUR 2.95 billion) in 2018. For the month of December 2019 alone, Ecuador shrimp exports to China increased 54 percent and 58 percent year-over-year in value and volume terms, reaching USD 157.4 million (EUR 145 million) and 60.2 million pounds, respectively.

“What happened in China will undoubtedly generate more attention from consumers concerning the conditions of the food that they buy,” Camposano said, without going into specifics.  

The CNA confirmed to SeafoodSource that Camposano was referring specifically to coronavirus in his statement, in which Camposano sought to provide assurance Ecuador’s shrimp exports meet all food safety standards.

“Regarding Ecuadorian shrimp, Chinese consumers can have the certainty that they are buying not only the best shrimp in the world, but the safest [and] healthiest, the only one with reliable traceability and the most natural one,” Camposano said.

The association underlined the fact that Ecuador was a pioneer in the shrimp sector by obtaining Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification and that the sector has been accredited as free of antibiotic use under the Sustainable Shrimp Partnership initiative.

“We are focusing all our efforts to guarantee Chinese consumers 100 percent traceability of our product, taking care of every detail in the production chain so that they can resume consumption levels, ensured that Ecuadorian shrimp is one of the healthiest proteins available in the market,” Camposano said.

However, with the increasing importance of China in the weighting of Ecuadorian shrimp exports, and with uncertainty still lingering about the danger of the disease, Camposano’s statement that Ecuador’s export market will rebound quickly seems to be based more on hope than in reality. The actions to date of other countries and organizations that do business with China reveal many other countries that export seafood to China expect a longer slow-down while China works to get a handle on the coronavirus outbreak.

Chile’s salmon trade group SalmonChile was the latest entity to interrupt business with China, and sector observers have warned that the outbreak may have a drastic impact on China’s seafood industry, with companies both shipping to and buying from China possibly declaring “force majeure”  in backing out of orders and payments.

In the specific case of Chile, salmon exports to China represented only about 5 percent of the total worldwide in 2019, and so work is being carried out to redirect China shipments to other countries.

Another organization besides the CAN viewing the economic impact of the coronavirus issue in a more positive way is Vietnam pangasius producers Navico, which said the coronavirus outbreak could actually turn into an opportunity for seafood to gain greater market share in China. Once the virus is brought under control, demand for pangasius could rise sharply, as it has a reputation for being disease-free, Navico said in a company release. Pangasius is both plentiful and affordable, two important factors following the catastrophic impact of swine flu and a growing outbreak of bird flu in China’s Hunan Province, which have caused shortfalls in pork and chicken, Navico said.

Photo courtesy of José Antonio Camposano/Twitter


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