For the first time in years, the U.S. is no longer the largest seafood export market of Vietnam as it is overtaken by Japan, says a report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Three of the four biggest seafood buyers of Vietnam in the first four months of 2017 are in Asia. In addition to Japan, China and South Korea appear in the top four, coming in third and fourth respectively.
In the first four months, Vietnam’s seafood export value is estimated at US$2.1 billion, an increase of more than 8% over the same period last year, says the report by the agriculture ministry.
Vietnam’s seafood is exported to more than 160 markets, but the biggest contributors to the industry are the big four, accounting for more than 52% of the country’s total seafood export value, or US$780 million, in the first three months of the year.
In previous years, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) used the phrase “traditional market” for the three largest buyers – the U.S., the EU and Japan, with each of them bringing an average of US$1 billion in revenue to the local aquaculture industry annually.
However, since 2016, the EU has no longer been in the top three, with its position taken over by China. One of the reasons is that tra fish has constantly run into troubles there.
This year, the Vietnam Pangasius Association forecasts tra fish exports to the EU will further decline.
In recent years, the two items with a high export value stateside are tra fish and shrimp, with the former always leading all Vietnam’s exports to this market. However, since the beginning of this year, the U.S. has no longer been in this position, according to VASEP.
The association said this was caused by anti-dumping duties, the catfish inspection program, and most recently the information that Vietnam’s tra fish from September 1 will be once again called catfish and under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), instead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
All tra fish exports stateside subject to inspection
From September 1, all shipments of catfish and tra fish exported to the U.S. will be required to produce full records for the USDA for re-inspection.
Foreign countries, including Vietnam, if wanting to continue to export these items to the U.S., will have to submit papers demonstrating the similarity between their farming systems and that adopted by this country.
This was informed by Richard Gilmore, president of the Global Food Safety Forum, at the seminar “Global Food Safety Trends and Solutions for Vietnamese Enterprises to Increase Exports” held in HCMC on April 26.
It will be difficult to prove that the fish farming system in Vietnam is similar to that of America, said Le Thi Hong Minh, former Deputy Minister of Fisheries.
For example, farmers in the U.S. deliver their fish by truck to the factory for processing, which is unrealistic with the farming conditions in Vietnam.
As the door to the U.S. is increasingly narrower, trade promotion and marketing are important to develop tra fish markets. Minh told the story of how the Norwegian Salmon Association had persistently advertise their products and eventually got accepted by the Japanese market, where consumers used to eat fish caught directly from nature only.
The way the Norwegians did is not too complicated, she said. They hired Japanese chefs to cook and invited consumers to try out the products, combined with advertisements on TV and in newspapers for many years.
They did so with the fund that all salmon exporters pay into under the statute of the association activities.
However, in Vietnam, VASEP has no right to ask its members to pay such a charge. To do so, the association must get the nod from the State, Minh explained.
Photo: CBR Investment AG