‘It is a great risk’: India seafood association warns members not to export to China: Intrafish

Dominic Welling: IntraFish

Over the last month, Around 70 seafood exporters have been slapped with temporary export suspensions, and ‘there are no guarantees’ things will improve anytime soon.

The Seafood Exporters Association of India (SEAI) is advising its members not to export products to China, after several companies were slapped with temporary suspensions over the past month.

At least 70 seafood exporters have been issued temporary export suspensions over the past few weeks, after authorities in China detected a “new coronavirus nucleic acid” on some packaging of frozen product, according to SEAI Secretary-General Elias Sait.

“Some containers are coming back and some of them are not coming back – it is not clear what the current status is,” Sait told IntraFish.

“What we are advising our exporters is to not ship to China until things are more clear. It is a great risk for them because the shipment and the containers are coming back. If they still want to ship, they can, but we are telling them it is at your own risk.”

India’s Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPEDA) is currently talking with the Indian embassy in China to try and resolve the situation, Sait said.

“Let’s look into it and see what’s to be done, but it’s not too clear on the other side as well,” he said.

SEAI represents roughly 450 exporters, and exports from 70 of those exporters so far have been suspended by China.

Some, however, are continuing to ship because they already have a lot of cargo on the way and believe that in seven days after the suspension the cargo will be able to go through the Chinese ports.

“So, it is really confusing now, there are no guarantees,” said Sait. “But what we understand if you are suspended for seven days you then have to undergo an inspection before exports can resume. There a lot of unknowns with China.”

Confusion over numbers

Earlier reports suggested that as many as 1,200 containers of Indian shrimp exports may now be stranded in Chinese ports, locking up product valued at around Rs 1,200 crore (€137 million/$161 million).

Jim Gulkin, managing director at shrimp supplier Siam Canadian, confirmed that there are many Indian containers stuck in China, but was unable to say how many.

“Whether it is 1,000 or not I can’t verify but indeed it is a very big volume and 1,000 [full container loads] is not an unrealistic estimate,” he told IntraFish.

Others were less convinced. Sait does not think the figure of 1,000 containers is realistic and called it “hearsay.”

“[How many containers] is anybody’s guess,” said Sait, “but it is not just shrimp, even the fish containers from the west coast with raw material going to China are having the same problem. Shrimp is probably 50 percent of this.”

Larger shrimp the solution?

China tends to buy smaller sizes of shrimp, so the SEAI has advised farmers to leave shrimp in the farms to grow larger before harvesting, giving them options to ship to other markets.

“Currently there is a bit of problem for exporters, let’s see how we get over it,” said Sait.

Sait questioned how long China can continue to ban imports from various countries.

Ecuadorian shrimp producers were caught up in a similar issue last year, insisting any discoveries of COVID-19 must have come from contact with external sources as the shrimp passed through a long chain of custody to their final destination.

“I think China will try to find a solution because this is not restricted to any one county. It is a universal situation, so it cannot go on like that,” said Sait. “They also have to explain the reasons scientifically.”

China is the second-largest importer of Indian shrimp behind the United States, accounting for around 46 percent by volume.

Farmers hit hardest

Manoj Sharma, managing director of Mayank Aquaculture, and president of Gujarat Aquaculture and the Gujarat Aquaculture Feed Dealer Association, also told IntraFish reports of 1,000 containers is unlikely, although he confirmed that China is refusing to buy and only wants products that have been tested for COVID-19.

“Many are denying the figures, and some say it is not more than 150 containers,” said Sharma.

“I doubt half of containers from outside Andra Pradesh are stuck at the border … 500 is very big number for processors from the west coast of India.”

Sharma said the biggest impact from the backlog is on shrimp farmers, as they are seeing farmgate prices dropping and costs rising.

For high-quality smaller shrimp — 50/60 count– farmers are losing as much as $0.50 (€0.42) per pound, Sharma said.

“Meanwhile prices for shrimp feed and fuel have gone up 20 percent,” he added.

Siam Canadian Group Frozen Seafood Exporters 

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