By July 29, 2019 10:29 BST

China’s direct seafood imports grew 32% to $7.03 billion in the first six months of 2019 compared with the same period last year, underling the Asian giant’s seemingly irrepressible appetite for imported seafood.

A crackdown on smuggling through Vietnam also contributed significantly to the increase as seafood trade shifts to official ports of entry from undocumented channels across China’s southwestern border with Vietnam.

The overall effect is China’s half-year imports of seafood have grown by double-digits for four consecutive six-month periods, while direct imports in H1 were almost double those in H1 of 2017.

Crusteanceans continue to be the main driver of import growth, a breakdown of Chinese customs data shows.

In the first six months of this year, imports of frozen warmwater shrimp grew 223% year-on-year in value to $1.55 billion, according to Chinese customs (a breakdown of China’s H1 shrimp imports can be viewed here.)

Imports of other crustaceans, such as New Zealand and Australian rock lobster, American lobster, Russian crab, also hit new highs, with imports of live and fresh lobster worth over three-quarters of a billion dollars.

In H1 of 2019, imports of live and fresh rock lobster grew 15% y-o-y to $530m, while imports of live and fresh American lobster grew 9% to $239m.

Meanwhile, imports of fresh and live crab (primarily from Russia) grew 1% y-o-y to $413m. Imports of coldwater shrimp contracted by 12% y-o-y to $121m.

In total, imports of the above five categories of crustacean products came to $2.86bn in value, accounting for 41% of total Chinese seafood imports.

China also imported large quantities of finfish, with imports of frozen pangasius fillets growing 27% y-o-y to $144m, while imports of whole frozen halibut grew 44% y-o-y to $159m.

Imports of fresh Altantic salmon grew just 5% y-o-y to $357m, however, reflecting the fact more fresh salmon was already being flown directly to China in H1 of 2018 rather than being smuggled through Vietnam.

Meanwhile, imports of frozen mackerel grew 46% y-o-y to $110m.

Earlier this year Norway said China was becoming an increasingly important growth market for whole frozen mackerel, although some of these imports are processed in Chinese factories and re-exported.

Since Chinese smuggling gangs in southwest China began facing tougher crackdowns by authorities, China has experienced a significant shift in trade flows to official ports of entry, such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Tianjin. Trade of shrimp has been particularly impacted, with Ecuadorian and Indian farmed shrimp almost exclusively imported through Vietnam in the past.

Imports of products processed and re-exported have not been impacted, however, as there is little to be gained from smuggling; raw material imported for reprocessing and re-export is not subject to Chinese import duties.

In H1, fluctuation in raw material prices and catch were the main factors behind change in values of imports of wild-caught cod, pollock, haddock, flatfish and squid (see full table below).

The above $7.03bn figure does not include Chinese imports of fishmeal traded under HS code 230120 or preserved seafood products, such as canned tuna, traded under HS codes 160521 and 160529.

China’s seafood imports worth over $100m in H1, 2019

Product Value ($m) Change y-o-y
Data from ITC, compiled by Undercurrent News
Frozen warmwater shrimp 1,555 223%
Frozen Alaska pollock 628 35%
Live/fresh rock lobster 530 15%
Frozen squid and cuttlefish 421 57%
Live/fresh crab 413 1%
Fresh Atlantic salmon 357 5%
Frozen fish nes 353 53%
Frozen cod 337 -12%
Live/fresh American lobster 239 9%
Frozen flat fish 169 9%
Frozen hallibut 159 44%
Frozen pangasius fillets 144 27%
Frozen coldwater shrimp 121 -12%
Frozen mackerel 110 46%