December 13, 2018

Saudi Arabia is adding a new commodity to its oil-heavy trade with China: frozen shrimp.

The world’s largest oil exporter has shipped 6,000 tons of the crustaceans to China since last week, Ahmed Al-Bala’a, chief executive officer of the National Aquaculture Group, said in a statement. It’s a modest but tasty step toward diversifying sales to one of the kingdom’s biggest commercial partners.

The emerging trade represents more than a new source of shellfish for the world’s most populous nation. Saudi Arabia is testing the waters in China for shrimp as it seeks to reduce its reliance on oil and develop new industries and lines of business.

Saudi shrimp exports to China should exceed 30,000 tons by the end of the year, said Al-Bala’a, whose closely held company operates a sprawling network of shrimp farms on the Red Sea coast. National Aquaculture Group is the only Saudi company exporting shrimp to China, he said.

Shipments are likely to jump to 80,000 tons by 2020, generating more than 2 billion riyals ($533 million) in revenue, as a result of an agreement the two governments signed in November, the state-owned Saudi Press Agency reported last month.

Even so, the shrimp peddling coincides with a surge in China-bound shipments of Saudi Arabia’s main export. Saudi crude cargoes to China soared on Dec. 3 to the highest daily level in 23 months of data tracking. China accounts for about 15 percent of Saudi crude sales this year, according to Bloomberg NEF.

China gobbles more shrimp than any other Asian country. While it’s one of that region’s biggest producers, Chinese output of the seafood has stagnated in recent years due to disease and poor weather, according to the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization.

Photo Credit: National Aquaculture Group