A range of export barriers
Catfish export has recorded high growth rate.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), by the end of July, the export of catfish reached US$1.2 billion, up 19% over the same period last year. It is forecasted that the figure for the whole year could reach US$2 billion. However, according to Chairman of the Vietnam Pangasius Association Duong Nghia Quoc, pangasius export has been developing but the market is not stable, leading to the low average price. High-priced import markets, including the US and the European Union, field a range of trade barriers to Vietnamese pangasius.
For example, in the US market, the US Department of Agriculture applying the Farm Bill to inspect 100% of imports of catfish is considered the main cause leading to the decline in export turnover. Currently, only two enterprises - Vinh Hoan and Bien Dong - are not subject to anti-dumping tax and they are able to export to the market at US$3-4 a kg.
With the EU market, pangasius exports are down because the bloc is concerned that Vietnamese catfish would compete with their whitefish, so they regularly launch negative campaigning against Vietnamese pangasius. Meanwhile, in the most developed markets for Vietnamese pangasius, such as China and ASEAN, export volumes are high but are not at high prices.
China is the biggest market for Vietnam pangasius, but exports to this market is also facing many barriers. Truong Dinh Hoe, General Secretary of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, said that exporters are facing difficulties due to regulations from the local authorities.
Particularly, since the quantity of pangasius exported to China has increased sharply, the local market authorities have set up technical barriers and strictly controlled the quality of imported goods through official channels, but hardly controlled the quality of imported products via unofficial border trade, that does not have to pay 17% of value added tax as via the official trade channels. That causes disadvantages for Vietnamese pangasius exporters who have invested in improved technology and paid efforts to be eligible to official trade.
In addition, one of the challenges facing the pangasius industry in Vietnam is that India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and even China are also investing in the development of catfish farming to compete with Vietnam pangasius.
Tran Dinh Luan, Deputy Head of the MARD’s Directorate of Fisheries, said that although the catfish industry, after a long period of restructuring, has achieved initial results, it is facing many difficulties against traditional markets’ barriers, such as barriers from the US and the EU, while several markets like Saudi Arabia and South America also unilaterally put restrictions on imports.
Maintaining the quality and building a strong brand name for catfish is a sustainable and long-term development path for the sector.
Promoting brand building
Responding to doubts about the increase of catfish farming in Vietnam’s import markets that could affect Vietnamese enterprises’ competitiveness, Tran Dinh Luan said that Vietnam's pangasius industry has 20 years of development; meanwhile, the sector in such foreign countries has just started. On the other hand, Vietnam’s pangasius industry in recent years has invested in intensive processing, enabling the Vietnamese management agencies and business community in finding new directions for stable development. In particular, the creation of good breeding will contribute significantly to the success of Vietnam’s catfish industry.
Luan also informed that the MARD has issued a project on developing three-level linking for high-quality catfish breeding production in the Mekong Delta to meet the demand for high quality breeds and stabilise supply-demand on seed production, with trusted brand, traceability and mobilisation of all economic sectors to participate in the chain, thus contributing to the development of catfish industry in a sustainable manner to meet the requirements of both domestic and international markets.
By the end of July, the Mekong Delta’s catfish farming area reached 4,033 hectares, with capacity at 814,086 tonnes. The price of raw catfish in the first half of 2018 was higher than the average price in 2017 from VND4,500 to VND7,000 VND per kg, leading to the real price ranging from VND25,000-VND27,000 a kg, depending on the quality and form of payment.
According to experts, to pursuit for sustainable exports, pangasius products need to ensure quality instead of quantity. In addition, Vietnam needs to build a strong brand for its pangasius industry. Duong Nghia Quoc affirmed: "Vietnamese pangasius is exporting to 150 countries and territories around the world, however, a specific brand for Vietnamese pangasius has not been reached by the global consumers. Therefore, it is time to develop a new strategy for the industry. The MARD should build a programme to promote quality enhancement, such as encouraging businesses to invest in technologies, thereby enhancing added value along with promoting trade and expanding new markets for the pangasius industry."