China has become a bona fide seafood superpower, producing not only enough to meet domestic demand, but also becoming a major exporter of processed aquaculture and seafood products, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Despite the growth in its exports, demand in China remains strong for high-end seafood from the U.S., according to the report written by staffers in the USDA’s Guangzhou office in southern China.
“Though overall consumer spending has declined for a number of food items (including imports), many high-end U.S. seafood exports have slowed down not because of the decline in demand, but because of tighter inspection procedures and sting operations for trade entering through gray channels,” the report said.
China accounts for almost 40 percent of total global seafood production, a number the report said is based on China Customs data. According to the most recent statistics by China’s Ministry of Agriculture, China exported 2.7 million tons of fish and seafood products worth $13.5 billion in the first three quarters of 2012, down 4.4 percent in volume and off 8 percent in value from the year before. In the first nine months of 2012, China imported 1.8 million tons of fish and seafood products, worth $3.9 billion, a 4 percent increase in volume, but an 8 percent decrease in value compared to the same period of 2011.
Russia continues to be the top supplier of China’s fish and seafood imports, followed by the United States. Seafood product shipments from the U.S. to China totaled 476,224 tons worth $1.1 billion in 2011, a 33 percent increase in volume and 56 percent increase in value compared to the previous year. During the first nine months of 2012, U.S. seafood exports to China totaled 280,774 tons with a value of $726.5 million, a 16 percent decline in volume and an 8 percent decrease in value from the same period of 2011.
China Customs implemented a series of anti-smuggling measures nationwide beginning in late 2011 — one factor for the lower shipments last year. “Customs reported two major successful crackdown cases widely broadcast in the media this past March in Guangzhou (mainly for live high-value seafood worth $48 million) and April in Shanghai (mainly for high-value seafood worth $102 million),” the report noted.
The crackdown led seafood traders to be more conservative in their purchases; inventory levels were lowered to a minimum to avoid the possibility of fines, it said.
“Meanwhile, some traders are switching to purchase through regular channels instead of relying on the gray channels to import these high-value products,” the report said. “One area where most of the trade has fully converted to legal imports is in direct live air seafood shipments to Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Depending on (future) enforcement methods employed by the China Customs on anti-smuggling, the trade will decide whether to continue to import through regular channels or swing back through the traditional lower-cost gray channel to remain competitive in a fierce market.”
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