Finding ways to boost seafood exports

Friday, 2017-02-24 11:48:05
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Processing frozen shrimp for exports (Photo: VNA)
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NDO—The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) has forecast that shrimp export revenues are expected to reach US$7.4 billion in 2017, and year-on-year increase of 6%. However, the shrimp industry is facing many new challenges related to trade barriers, technical barriers and the quality control regulations of importers.

The VASEP forecasts growth in shipments to the US, the EU and Japan—the three biggest markets. While shipments of aquatic products to the US could expand 5% to US$1.5 billion, those to the EU and Japan are likely to rise only 1% and 2% to some US$1.2 billion and US$1.1 billion, respectively.

In 2016, Vietnamese shrimp was sold on 161 markets, earning a revenue of over US$7 billion, an increase of 7.4% compared to 2015. The top five importers are the US, the EU, Japan, the Republic of Korea and China, of which the US remained Vietnam’s largest import market, accounting for 21% of the seafood export value of the country. In order to reach a revenue of US$7.4 billion in 2017, the two biggest problems, namely markets and product quality must be addressed.

From the beginning of this year, many difficulties have come up with two key export products—shrimp and tra fish. In early January, Australia banned imports of shrimp and cooked or uncooked prawn meat products from many countries including Vietnam after detecting white spot viruses in shrimp sold at stores and after a white spot outbreak in Queensland. Accordingly, shrimp shipments to Australia were destroyed or re-exported. Others transiting via Australia also faced strict examination. Only on February 6 did the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources announce a relaxation of the ban, but only dried prawns, shelf-stable prawn-based food products, irradiated bait for aquatic use, pet fish food, aquaculture feed and uncooked prawns caught from the exclusive economic zone of Australia are subject to the ban lift.

Meanwhile, frozen shrimp exported to the Republic of Korea (ROK) from member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including Vietnam, must undergo quarantine checks before shipping to the market. The ROK has added frozen shrimp products to the list of seafood products that must undergo quarantine checks before entering the country from April 1, 2017. At present, frozen abalone and oyster are required to undergo quarantine checks before being exported to the country. The ROK has recognised six centres in Vietnam that qualify to undertake quarantine checks on seafood products exported to the country. From April 1, the centres must cooperate with the ROK’s relevant offices to implement quarantine checks on Vietnamese frozen shrimp products. Subsequently, the centres should update local seafood exporters on the new regulations to avoid mistakes while exporting seafood to the ROK. It can be seen that this technical barrier will require that Vietnamese exporters expend more time and money in order to complete all the procedures required by the their partner.

As for the tra fish, a recent incident may also hurt exports of this product this year. Spanish commercial television channel Cuatro recently broadcast incorrect and defamatory information on tra fish bred in the Mekong River. According to Cuatro, tra fish is being raised in unclean cages and fed with non-industrialised feed like dead fish and other food waste. The report went on to charge that this was the reason for the low prices of Vietnamese tra fish. After receiving information about the Cuatro report, VASEP sent a letter to the local media, rejecting it in its entirety, stressing that Vietnam’s tra fish production was hygienic and safe to consume. The VASEP also added that demand for Vietnamese tra fish had declined earlier following damaging media reports. In 2016, the price of tra fish in the European Union market kept falling and damaged Vietnam’s tra fish export value, despite the country’s export volume almost matching that of the previous year. In some cases, a lot of European sellers mixed tra fish fillets with other products to increase their selling prices. Such factors will likely have a negative impact on Vietnam’s tra fish exports in 2017.

According to the VASEP, the tra fish industry in Vietnam has improved its production process and quality management. It has also improved its management of environmental impacts as well as ensuring the clear indication of the origins of seafood, especially in the supply chain comprising breed suppliers, feed factories, fish farms and processing factories. The final products are stored in modern freezing warehouses before being exported to foreign markets. In addition, many fish farms have acquired international certification for good raising practices, including Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and Global Gap. In order to obtain these recognitions, the fish farms have to be built and operate strictly on the criteria of quality, origin traceability and social responsibility.

VASEP Secretary General Truong Dinh Hoe said saltwater intrusion, the high production cost of raw materials, strong competition and technical barriers in import markets will also remain challenges for seafood businesses. He also warned of an emerging challenge with some countries protecting local production by way of technical barriers or food safety and quarantine regulations to hamper imports. Businesses should keep updated on export markets to avoid having their goods returned, he noted. Moreover, the Government should also devise support policies to ensure the domestic supply of raw materials, improve farming-processing-export links and reduce production costs.