Dec. 19, 2017 18:43 GMT

Australian exports of fresh Atlantic salmon to China have rebounded strongly this year and Australian salmon company Tassal Group expects further long-term growth, CEO and managing director Mark Ryan told Undercurrent News.

According to latest Chinese customs figures (HS Code 030214), China imported 5,137 metric tons of whole fresh Atlantic salmon from Australia between January-October of this year, up 477% compared with the corresponding period last year.

“Supply volumes are seasonal, and the recent increases have been in part due to strong biomass growth from our farms, with fish reaching their optimal harvest weight and seasonality of market demand,” said Ryan. “We are harvesting some of the largest salmon in the world at present, meaning a strong supply of very large fish, which the Chinese tend to favor.”

China whole fresh Atlantic salmon imports Jan – Oct

Top 10 origins 2016 volume (metric tons) 2017 volume (metric tons) Year-on-year % change
Chile 11,327 9,827 -13
Falklands 7,657 6,736 -12
Australia 891 5,137 477
UK 2,703 5,018 86
Canada 4,850 1,598 -67
Norway 517 669 29
Vietnam 169 61 -64
Total 28,114 29,046 3
Source: Undercurrent News, Chinese Customs; Note: HS Code 030214

Australia is now the third-largest origin of Atlantic salmon to China ahead of the UK and behind only Chile and the Falklands, both of which saw offtake by China drop.

In 2015, China imported 5,323t of whole fresh Atlantic salmon from Australia. Peter Bender, CEO and managing director of Huon Aquaculture Group, told Undercurrent the reason for the rebound to those levels “is simply that we had a really bad season the year before and a much better season this year”.

Ryan sees the potential of long-term growth in sales to China due to its high forecast increase in salmon consumption, from a very low base.

“We believe Tassal fresh Atlantic salmon is in a prime position to take advantage of this growth as we can reach this market up to two days before European farmers, ensuring they receive fresher fish. Furthermore, recovery rates for our fish are up to 5% better, color is superior and 100% of our supply is [Aquaculture Stewardship Council] certified — which is an essential market criteria for ensuring a sustainable and transparent product.”

Norwegian salmon to Vietnam

Norway — absent from the rankings due to an unresolved trade ban — still commands a significant share of Chinese imports, but through Vietnam; the southeast Asian country has become a major entry point for seafood and other goods into China thanks to the ‘grey trade’ of illegal smuggling across the border, avoiding Chinese customs and inspection.

Norway exported 20,640t of whole fresh Atlantic salmon to Vietnam in the ten months to June of this year, up 61% compared with the corresponding period a year prior, according to International Trade Center (ITC), referring to Norwegian export figures.

The big increase to Vietnam is corroborated by industry sources in China who describe large quantities of smuggled fresh salmon on the market for low prices. By comparison, Norway exported just 4,282t to neighboring Thailand over the same period, according to ITC, a country with an economy four times as large.

Norway whole fresh Atlantic salmon exports to Vietnam Sept – June

Export markets 2016 volume (metric tons) 2017 volume (metric tons) Year-on-year % change
Vietnam 12,827 20,640 61
Hong Kong 11,683 5,025 -57
Thailand 4,621 4,282 -7
Source: Undercurrent News, International Trade Center; Note: HS Code 030214

Norway has made progress towards resuming direct trade with China this year; at the China Fisheries & Seafood Expo held in Qingdao last month, a Norwegian industry source told Undercurrent that some volumes of fresh salmon are now entering China through second-tier Chinese cities, reports corroborated by Chinese local media.

However, Sigmund Bjorgo — Norwegian Seafood Council director for China — recently said the fact trade with China still hasn’t returned to normal is the “big elephant in the room” in talks between the two countries.

Meanwhile, exports over the period to Hong Kong — another known point of entry for the grey trade — were down 57%.

During the China show, Chilean salmon exporter sources told Undercurrent of a noticeable increase in market competition this year resulting from the influx of Australian Atlantic salmon.

Besides the stronger harvests, Australian exporters of whole fresh Atlantic salmon are benefiting from reduced Chinese import tariffs as part of the free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries agreed in 2015.

Next year tariffs will drop from 4% to 2%, as part of a staggered reduction to zero by 2019. Prior to the FTA, Australian exporters faced Chinese import tariffs of 10%.