Chinese tilapia prices rise on surge in US orders prior to 25% tariff hike : Oct 23, 2018
Tilapia farmgate prices in China have risen to a three-year high owing to a bump in US orders ahead of 25% tariffs, industry sources told Undercurrent News.
“The price went up quickly,” Landy Chow, general manager of Siam Canadian China, a division of Thailand-based Siam Canadian, a frozen seafood distributor, told Undercurrent News. “US buyers are pushing hard to ship all their pending orders out before Nov 20 with arrival before Dec 24, 2018, in order to make sure that they can clear containers before Jan 1, 2019, to avoid the 25% import duty.”
“So factories are gearing up their production for US orders,” he added, “which means they need to buy more raw material. As a result, raw material prices went up quickly.”
The perceived risk that the administration of president Donald Trump will impose tariffs of 25% on Jan 1, has seen US importers buy more product before tariffs could come into effect, as happened this summer; in June and July, US buyers placed large orders after Trump first aired plans to levy tariffs of 10-25% on Chinese imports — including seafood — as early as September.
According to Undercurrent’s prices portal, in September average farmgate prices of tilapia rose to CNY 9.20 per kilogram ($1.33), 500-800g, in Guangdong province. So far in October, raw material prices have risen to an average of CNY 9.45/kg, the highest level in three years.
In Hainan, raw material prices are CNY 9.00 to CNY 9.20 per kilogram, 500-800g, an industry source based in the island province told Undercurrent. This year prices have largely been CNY 8.20-8.60, he said, mostly CNY 8.40/kg. “Raw material price is at the highest level now,” he said.
Fisheries Advance, a Chinese industry publication, reports farmgate prices of CNY 6.40-9.00/kg in Hainan, depending on sizes. In Maoming, a county in Guangdong, prices are CNY 7.20-9.20/kg, depending on sizes.
“In western Guangdong and Hainan the tilapia market has less and less fish,” said the publication in a report dated Oct. 20. “Price rises are incremental but with little room for further increases.”
Prices will “gradually drop” to low levels by the beginning of December, reckons the Hainan-based source, coinciding with Chow’s Nov 20 cut-off date for US buying.
The US view
In an email to Undercurrent, Don Kelley, vice president of seafood importer Western Edge, agreed raw material prices have increased owing to US buying.
The two-tier tariff “caused a rush among [US] buyers trying to get product in before Jan 1,” he said. “The plants are limited in what they can do in this short window.”
This caused the spike in prices as they tried to secure product, he said.
Nick Ovchinnikov, CEO of seafood trader Lotus Seafood, concurred.
“Chinese plants are shipping like crazy. They have much larger orders than they did last year at the same time,” he told Undercurrent.
He said Chinese tilapia processors are also selling more to Latin America, due to the high price of Vietnamese pangasius.
“We see large packers that weren’t interested in doing highly glazed product, because for the big packers it was always a headache, and they try to avoid that, are now increasingly flexible because they want to have alternative markets, like Mexico, Columbia, Chile, where they want inexpensive fillets,” he said.
Assessing the prospects of Chinese tilapia under the new US tariff regime, Kelley said foodservice customers have “mostly adjusted” to 10% and 25% tariffs. Many whitefish are in stronger price levels and that has been true [during] most of 2018, he noted.
“[Industry] is trying to replace with cheaper alternatives, but pollock is higher this year,” agreed Ovchinnikov.
“Tariffs will affect the tilapia market, but there are not many alternatives.”
Tilapia prices are $1.60-1.70 per pound, 100% net weight, CFR, Ovchinnikov said, not including the 10% tariff. Pangasius fillets are between $2.90-3.20/lb, delivered duty paid (DDP).
In August, the US imported 13,888t of Chinese tilapia, including both frozen whole tilapia and tilapia fillets, according to most recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data. This was up 21% in volume compared with August last year, and up 22% in volume compared with July (see graph).
Between January-August, the US imported 83,133t of tilapia worth $261.9m, down 1.8% y-o-y in volume and down 4.6% y-o-y in value respectively, according to NOAA.
However, US imports of Chinese tilapia’s main rival in the US farmed whitefish market, Vietnamese pangasius, were down 8.5% in August compared with the same month last year. Between Jan-Aug, cumulative US imports of pangasius products were down a massive 19% y-o-y to 66,286t, according to NOAA.
Average import values of Chinese tilapia fillets in the month of August were $3.48/kg, down from 3.58/kg in July, but up slightly from $3.45/kg in August, 2017. Average import values of Vietnamese pangasius fillets in August this year were $4.59/kg, according to NOAA, up massively from $3.52/kg the same month last year.
Recently, Undercurrent reported pangasius prices have dipped slightly, although they still remain historically high.
“Even after 25% [tilapia prices] will still be in the lower $2s per pound, 100% net weight. It’s not going to die,” said Ovchinnikov.
Kelley suggested end consumers might switch to other animal proteins.
In 2017, US import volumes of both species from the two origins slipped (see graph).