Has China just become the world’s largest shrimp importer? : Feb 28, 2019
Louis Harkell: UnderCurrentNews
China imported a massive 71,227 metric tons of shrimp in the month of January worth $449 million, according to Chinese customs, begging the question: is China now the world’s largest importer of shrimp?
The import surge came as the country’s seafood importers prepared for Chinese New Year holidays in February, its busiest period for seafood sales.
By comparison, the US imported 68,671t of shrimp in November of last year, the most recent month of US shrimp import data, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2,556t less shrimp than China imported.
Only in October of last year did the US import over 70,000t of shrimp, with 74,875t, according to NOAA (see chart one).
But does this make China the world’s largest shrimp importer ahead of the US? Arguably the US, home of Bubba Gump shrimp, still holds this title.
According to an industry source, the US imports mostly headless shrimp, rather than head-on shrimp imported by China. This means a greater amount of shrimp was imported by volumes actually farmed or caught. “On a weight basis 70,000t of headless [shrimp] would represent 108,000t of head-on shrimp,” the source told Undercurrent News.
Chinese New Year is also especially busy for Chinese seafood importers whereas US imports grow gradually through the summer months before peaking before Christmas.
Moreover, US shrimp imports in November were valued at $615m, versus $449m for China in January, representing greater value for shrimp-producing countries exporting to the US.
“That China imported 70,000t of shrimp is very significant,” Jim Gulkin, CEO of Siam Canadian Group , told Undercurrent. “It highlights how China’s consumption is growing and also shows how more and more Chinese importers are importing through official channels direct to China.”
The first industry source, who wished not to be quoted by name, concurred.
“It shows how well the Vietnam channel has been shut down and minimized. It will be interesting to see how the next few months stack up,” he said, adding: “70,000t of shrimp in one month is a lot of shrimp.”
But still large volumes continue to be transshipped to the country via Vietnam. This might have taken China’s January imports above 100,000t.
Some 12,730t of shrimp which departed Ecuador’s ports in the month of December destined for Vietnam would likely have arrived in January, for instance. Large volumes farmed in Southeast Asia also are shipped to China undocumented.
Indeed, maybe Ecuador and India — which supplied 21,437t and 12,981t respectively in January — will continue to export large volumes to China directly, but perhaps not. Also, will Saudia Arabia maintain its extraordinary surge in exports to China?
In January, the Middle Eastern country supplied 19,033t of shrimp imported through official channels by China, up from nothing the same month of last year.