World Fishing's Pilar Santamaria on a country that is making fishing one of its top priorities after a successful few years for the industry's seafood exports - The fishing sector has not stop growing in Vietnam, establishing as one of the main activities in the country in terms of turnover from exports.
If the ambitious targets settled by the government are met, then this industry can have a boom without precedents. This growth is especially significant for aquaculture, which is becoming an extremely important export sector in Vietnam, only behind the oil production.
Last year, incomes from seafood export reached US$ 1.8billion, turning into the third-largest hard currency earner for the country. This figured meant a 20 % over 2000 and the Ministry of Fisheries is hoping to see this number rise to US$ 4.5-5 billion by 2010.
These data are very promising, especially for a country with an economy in transition, where the private sector is becoming a very important agent in the economy.
There is no doubt, therefore, that commercial fishing is having an increasingly important role in the country's development.
For this year, sector plans to net about 2.3 million tonnes of seafood. Fisheries exporters are also joining forces to draw up plans to meeting the export target of US$ 2 billion.
As for most of the countries, the first half of the year has been very difficult in terms of fish exports with prices falling down 30 % so far. The world crisis and the events of September 11 added to tougher EU inspections on Vietnamese fish products for chemical residues and the difficulties exporting catfish to the US hit the exporters.
Those saw their earnings drop 6.5 % during the first four months of this year compared with the same period of 2001. This reduction in the value of seafood export was due to a decline in the price of shrimp, a major export item for the country.
However, catches seem to be doing well and for the six first months of the year, a year-on-year increase of 0.5 %. With good weather conditions, fishing had netted a good catch of 737,000 tonnes, more than 20 times the output in 1998. In addition, recent statistics released from the Government shows already signs of recovery in the prices.
This growth in exports has not been exempt of conflicts, especially with Vietnam's largest seafood market the US.
The US Department of Commerce is investing allegations that Vietnam has dumped catfish in the US markets. The Catfish Farmers of America claims Vietnam unfairly captured 20 % of the US$ 590 millions frozen catfish fillet market. They successfully persuaded the US Congress to pass a law prohibiting foreign fish from being sold in the United States under the name of "catfish".
Last month, Vietnam producers had to face new accusations from US shrimp fishermen and government regarding allegations that Vietnamese's shrimp has been sold below market prices. Vietnam has counted the allegations by explaining that Vietnamese seafood is less expensive because of lower production costs. Successful lawsuits could result in new tariffs on imported shrimp, the largest fisheries product, in the US.
The US was Vietnam's largest shrimp export market last year, with 27,200 tonnes worth US$ 317 million, and accounting for 43% of the Vietnam's total shrimp exports. Second biggest importer is Japan with US$ 268.5 millions. USA also leads the export market for all Vietnamese seafood accounting 27%, followed closely by Japan with 26% of exports.
Although dumping accusations between Vietnamese and US traders, US exports to this country have topped US$ 70 million in the first quarter, an increase of 35% over the same period last year..
Industry insiders attribute the impressive growth to efforts made to improve product quality and a better understanding of the potential for seafood exports following talks between traders from both countries.
In this sense, China is also regarding as a potentially attractive market for its geographic proximity, ever raising demand for seafood and the nation's affinity for a diverse ranging from fresh fish, dehydrated fish, squid to shrimp.
Last year, China was also a major importer, buying with Hong Kong a combined 20% of all Vietnamese seafood exports --US$316- and the figure is expected to reach US$ 400 million by the end of this year. But now that China is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Vietnam's seafood enterprises have to comply with tougher quality standards and new challenges including China's high tariff, which is up to 43% on Vietnamese seafood, method of payment, complicated customs procedures and an opaque border trade policy.
Furthermore, China as a member of the WTO enjoys import tariff reductions, which benefit its trade, but pose a greater challenge to developing countries like Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Fishery Ministry is already planing to negotiate some sort of preferential treatment for bilateral trade with China, like that enjoyed by WTO members.
As most of the countries that are starting to develop their fishing industry, Vietnam still needs to improve its industry in different ways. The Fishery Ministry has carried out measures to manage the use of antibiotics and chemical substances in seafood processing and aquaculture, actively control natural calamities, boost trade promotion and expand outlets. These measures answer to a bid to increase aquaculture turnover in the future and meet international seafood standard requirements.
Other strategies newly introduced anticipates sales of value-added products will top 4,000 tonnes in 2010, a four fold increase against 2000 figures. Canned seafood sales will increase by a similar rate to 2,000 tonnes, while frozen seafood sales should increase by 1.5, to 20,000 tonnes.
Adding value to the seafood could be an important source of income. At present, about 41 % of the total maritime catch is used for the domestic processing industry while up to 35 % of the total output is being exported in unprocessed forms.
Lack of infrastructures is also a problem being tackling by the Governmet. The Ministry of Fisheries has put 10 new fishing ports in action, and is experimenting with a cooperation programme with foreign countries. As part of this programme, a fishing fleet has been spent to Brunei, the ministry said.
In addition, coastal provinces have built more than 6,000 offshore fishing vessels in order to boost their fishing capacity, and have created more than 36,000 jobs in the process.
Regarding aquaculture, there has been growing strongly alongside fishing with 424,129 tonnes of seafood produced in the first six months.
Vietnam now has 3,800 farms producing shrimp larvae and 400 farms supplying fry. In the first half of this year, they produced over 10.7 billion shrimp larvae and 10 billion fish fry.
Since September, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors (VASEP) has joined the ASEAN Aquaculture Federation (AAF) established between Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The association works to ensure fairness in exports and fights some developed countries policies to regulate the entrance of farm products from developing countries to their markets.
In addition, last month the European Union has lifted its intensive examinations of all shrimp from Vietnam from anti-biotic residue after one year of disruptions. This decision means that shrimp exports come back to normal customs procedures and that exporters will retake their share of the market. However, the Vietnamese Fisheries Minister has declared that the country will continue with its control over seafood shipments in terms of anti-biotic residue. This control means examination of the production process from raising, catching, processing and material supply.
The Fisheries Ministry Ta Quang Ngoc, is now proposing to the EU to accept 32 more Vietnamese companies to export seafood into its market, raising the total to 100.
These companies have the National Fisheries Inspection And Quality Assurance Centre (NAFIQACEN) certification, that conforms they meet EU safety standards.
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