PANDEMIC ACCELERATES SHIFTS IN CHINA’S SEAFOOD MARKET

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China’s central government has realigned its strategy in response to pressures related to Covid-19.

The country continues to encourage seafood imports, which have long been seen as a means of dampening consumer price inflation, however, recently, China reduced the tariff on frozen cod from 7% to 2%, while duties on ribbonfish, frozen crab, and frozen small shrimp were also reduced from 7% to 5%. 

The rate on live or fresh abalone imports dropped from 10% to 7%. The biggest cut was for fertilised fish eggs, which went from 12% to 0%. Chinese import taxes for most seafood range from 5% – 7%, while VAT is charged at 9%.

Fears over Covid-19 spreading via imported seafood, and aggressive political posturing on the global stage have accelerated a shift in China’s strategy of making consumption the country’s key economic driver and replacing a dependency on imports with local alternatives. 

The Chinese government’s efforts to support seafood suppliers making this shift has included offering assistance with marketing and brand-building, as well as training programmes delivered through the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences (CAFS) and the Ocean and Fisheries Bureau.

China has also, in effect, made foreign access to its market more difficult in order to cajole and facilitate local seafood firms to shift focus into the hungry domestic market.

Didier Boon, head of Beijing-based East China Seas, said stringent controls at Chinese ports for Covid-19 detection – which include the packaging on each shipment being tested with nucleic acid, and positive results leading to a one-week shutdown of all import activity – have been a deterrent for importers. He added that a global shipping container shortage has exacerbated trading recalcitrance.

“Importers are still wary to import, as they may lose the containers,” Boon said. “This is true for vannamei imports from Ecuador for local market and for the many containers from India that are for reprocessing in China and re-export.”

Dileep Kumar, Head of India-based E Seafood Exports, said Indian exporters have had difficulties accessing China. Clearance of containers at Chinese ports, he said, has been a “problem”.

“There is no problem with demand in China, and our old customers still buy, but we haven’t had many new enquiries from China recently,” Kumar said.

Fan Xubing, CEO of Seabridge, a Beijing-based marketing consultancy with foreign seafood exporter clients, said: “Imported seafood was seriously affected by Covid-19 in China and most species market were shrinking in 2020; sales of domestic seafood, especially farmed seafood, are growing very well.”

Overall, Chinese seafood imports dropped by 20% in 2021, however, according to Fan products that aren’t produced in China at the volumes required to meet demand are still finding favour in the Chinese marketplace. 

Fan said: “Species such as coldwater shrimp from Canada and Greenland, live North American lobster, and live king crab from Russia were almost not affected by Covid-19.”

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