China’s imports of shrimp almost tripled to 718,000 metric tons in 2019, seeing it overhaul the US to become the world’s largest importer by volume, according to Chinese customs data compiled by Undercurrent News.
The surge amounts to 462,000t more shrimp imported than in 2018, and follows a drop in undocumented transshipment of shrimp through Vietnam and increase through official Chinese ports of entry.
The value of full-year imports came to $4.44 billion.
The year was capped by record December imports of 97,000t
The import haul follows the Chinese government’s crackdown on the vast ‘gray trade’ of shrimp into China. The trade, which mainly involves smuggling shrimp from third countries across the China-Vietnam border, reduced to a trickle last summer, as more shrimp was shipped directly to Chinese ports, although some may still be entering through the Southeast Asian country.
Undercurrent has previously estimated the seafood ‘gray trade’ to be worth several billion dollars a year, which was not counted in official Chinese import figures.
Undercurrent estimates in 2019 an additional 50,000-100,000t of shrimp was imported via the Vietnam route.
China’s booming imports underlines the threat posed by coronavirus to the global shrimp industry. At the Indian International Seafood Show in Kochi last week, Undercurrent learned that India’s growing shrimp export trade with China has been thrown into disarray, with prices of Indian shrimp dropping by as much as $0.50 per kilogram of headless product.
Last year, China’s direct imports of warmwater shrimp grew most; up 237% year-on-year to 649,000t, according to Chinese customs. This is mostly farmed shrimp, but also Argentine wild-caught red shrimp.
China’s shrimp imports by category, 2019
Imports of coldwater shrimp increased 6% to 56,000t. Coldwater shrimp imported by China is mostly pandalus Borealis caught in the northern Atlantic. Imports of live and fresh shrimp, mainly from Thailand, increased 26% y-o-y to 10,500t (see chart two).
Ecuador and India are China’s biggest suppliers of warmwater shrimp; together they claimed almost three-quarters of China’s market in 2019.
China’s imports of Ecuadorian shrimp came to 322,636t, up 324% y-o-y, while values increased 285% y-o-y to $1.85bn, Chinese figures show.
Imports of Indian shrimp increased 346% y-o-y to 155,027t, while values increased 337% y-o-y to $904m (see chart three and full table below article). Most Indian shrimp is deheaded in India before further processing in Chinese factories.
China’s suppliers of frozen warmwater shrimp, 201
US market still worth more
China now leads the US in terms of volume, although by live weight equivalent and value the US is still bigger
In 2019, the US imported 700,065t of shrimp, some 18,000t less than China. But the value of US imports came to $6.0 billion, around $1.5bn more.
De-heading and shelling of shrimp destined for the US market lower the weight of each shrimp. By contrast, Ecuadorian processors send most shrimp to China whole.
Both shrimp importers lag behind the EU, however. In 2018, the EU imported some 900,000t of shrimp, live weight equivalent, according to figures from AIPCE (EU Fish Processors and Traders Association).
Coldwater shrimp imports
In 2019, China’s largest supplier of coldwater shrimp was Canada (27,529t).
Canada was followed by Greenland (15,400t), Russia (3,877t) and Denmark (3,007t) (see chart four).
China’s suppliers of frozen coldwater shrimp, 201
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