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3 SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA: TRADE IN SHARK PRODUCTS


3.1 Singapore

3.1.1 General

Singapore is the second largest shark fin trading nation after Hong Kong. Traders who have been involved in Singapore’s shark fin trade for forty to fifty years remember the time when eight to ten auctions were held daily. During that time, only members of the Singapore Shark fin Merchants Association were able to purchase shark fin. They also remember the ready availability of an inexpensive supply. However, since 1987, with the entry of China into the market, prices have increased by 100 % over the 10 years; about 10 % per annum. This was interrupted for 4-5 months in 1989, after the unrest in China following the student demonstrations in Beijing.

It is interesting to note that the opening up of the Chinese market also saw an increase in demand for the fins of whale sharks. These fins were not usually popular products as their fin needles are inclined to be coarse in texture and ashy in taste. The Chinese demand for these fins were not for food, but mainly for display in the restaurants. The sheer size of these fins was enough to impress customers. After a surge in purchases for 4-5 years, the demand has died down since 1996. It is reported that Indian suppliers were left with 30 tonnes of surplus stock. They have great difficulties in finding buyers even at the price of S$10/kg. The normal price per kilogram is S$40. A set of whale shark fins consists of one dorsal, one caudal and a pair of pectoral fins weighing between 10 and 15kg. Singaporean and Malaysian restaurants are also very fond of displaying shark fins on their premises. (Photograph 2.3)

In Singapore it is not difficult to collect information on trade statistics and traders. The Trade Development Board of Singapore has a vast collection of trade information. The Singapore Productivity and Standards Board was also extremely helpful. The Primary Production Department would have been the best source for an un-biased picture. Unfortunately, contact with the personnel of the Department was not established.

3.1.2 Trade

Tables 1 and 2 and Figures 2 and 3 show the quantity and value of imports, exports and domestic exports of shark fin products between 1986 and 1996. Domestic exports refer to exports originating from Singapore and comprise primary commodities produced in Singapore and goods which have been manufactured, assembled or processed there, even if they include imported materials.

Figure 2 Singapore trade in dried or salted shark fin

Imports of dried or salted shark fin peaked in 1988 at 1 899 tonnes and exports peaked in 1989 at 1 525 tonnes. 1988 saw exceptionally high imports from Malaysia, 705 tonnes, but this was only worth S$41 000, giving an average value of only S$58.16/tonne. This is anomalous as the annual average value per tonne during this period ranged from S$24 743 to S$53 677 except for 1998 when it dropped to S$21 460/tonne. The value of imports was highest in 1992 and of both exports and domestic exports in 1994. From Figure 2 it appears that, while the quantity of imports has remained fairly steady in recent years, the value per unit is generally rising.

Figure 3 shows a general downward trend in the quantity and value of exports and domestic exports of prepared shark fin. While the quantity of imports appears to be dipping after the dramatic rise in 1995, its value continues to rise. Imports of prepared shark fin peaked in 1995 reaching 143.789 tonnes at S$5.206 million. This gives an average price of S$36.20/kg. The average annual price over this period was between S$31 and S$77/kg. Exports and domestic exports peaked in 1991 at 143.7 tonnes and 119.776 tonnes, at S$4.746 million and S$2.595 million respectively. The value of imports was highest in 1996 at S$5.496 million for 71.23 tonnes giving an average of S$77.15/kg. (Table 2)

Figure 3 Singapore trade in prepared shark fin

Imports

There is no import tax on shark fin, only a 3 % sales tax.

Figure 4 Singapore imports of prepared shark fin

From 1986 to 1996 Singapore imported dried or salted shark fin from more than 75 countries. Of these, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Pakistan and Yemen were the major suppliers. The quantities imported from these five countries account for more than half the quantity imported and about half of the total cost. However, in recent years Japan and Pakistan seem to be declining and Spain, Sri Lanka and Taiwan Province of China are gaining. (Table 3).

Singapore imported prepared shark fin from more than 25 countries between 1986 and 1997. Imports from Hong Kong and Thailand were most consistent throughout. Australia started to gain in quantity only in the 1990s. The other remarkable imports were from Spain in 1994 and 1995 amounting to 35 136kg and 53 216kg, respectively. (Figure 4 and Table 4)

Exports

Singapore exported dried or salted shark fin to more than 25 countries (Table 5). Hong Kong was the single largest buyer. Its intake varied from 503 tonnes in 1990 to 1 314 tonnes in 1989, representing 62 % and 86 % of total exports respectively. The value of the intake by Hong Kong varied from S$31.885 million in 1992 to S$21.018 million in 1986 representing 56 % and 93 % of the total export value. Malaysia and Myanmar were, for most years, the second and third largest buyers. (Figure 5 and Table 5).

Figure 5 Singapore exports of dried/salted fins

Figure 6 Singapore exports of prepared shark fin

Domestic exports

Singapore exports prepared shark fin to more than 17 countries of which Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan Province of China and the USA bought larger quantities during this period.(Table 6 and Figure 6) All of these countries showed a downward trend after reaching a peak at varying times. Exports to Japan peaked in 1988 at 20 668kg. The USA was at a high of 22 073kg in 1987 and Taiwan Province of China peaked in 1991 with 52 464kg.

Singapore exported dried or salted shark fin to more than 15 countries. The quantity was relatively small compared with regular exports. It varied from a low of 1 tonne valued at S$51 000 in 1988 to a high of 254 tonnes worth S$15.266 million in 1994. After that the trend was again downward. While Hong Kong was the major export market, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand shared a large proportion of the remainder. (Table 7)

Singapore exported prepared shark fin to more than 16 countries on a more regular basis. The quantity varied from a low of 9 805kg at a value of S$919 000 in 1986 to a high of 119 776kg at a value of S$ 2.595 million in 1991. The major markets included Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan Province of China, USA, France and Germany. (Table 8)

3.1.3 Changing trends and changing tastes

Busy modern living generates a need for ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat products. Increased affluence in society creates demands for higher valued products. This has prompted younger generations in the shark fin trade to embark on processing. This involvement has resulted in the merging of the previously distinct lines between importers, wholesalers and users further down the chain.. The processors’ need for a regular supply of raw material prompted them to purchase directly from source. This bypasses the auction, thus giving them not only lower prices by bulk purchasing but saving the 3-5 % auction fee. In so doing, they are taking on the role of importers. Having bought in bulk, they ended up with surplus shark fin they do not need, so they sell them in the local markets or overseas, and take on the role of wholesalers and exporters. In the early days most of the trade in shark fins was internal, nowadays 90 % of the trade has become external.

3.1.4 Distribution channels

As the role of each sector of the trade merge and overlap, the distribution channels listed below shows the flow of the product rather than the functions of each of the player involved.

Figure 7 Singapore distribution channels

3.1.5 Popular species

Of the many species of fins imported into Singapore, two are most popular with the local restaurant trade. These are the fins of Brown shark and Blue shark. Species such as Hammerhead shark, Tiger shark, White Sandbar shark are also common. However, by comparison, they are used in very small quantities.

From time to time the preference for fins of specific species will change, mainly influenced by the culinary arts of visiting chefs from Thailand and Hong Kong. They also change when the consumers become more or less willing to pay. The canned shark fin trade uses small washed fins, 2-3 inches[*] long. These are probably of mixed species.

3.1.6 Indicative prices

Generally, the price range for white and black fins are as follows:

The actual price paid for each consignment is based on the quality of the fins, whether they are dried or salted-dried, the size range and the species.

3.1.7 Singapore standards for shark fin

According to sources in the Singapore Productivity and Standards Board, there are no standards for the sale, import or export of shark fin in any form e.g. dried, canned or processed wet fins. The processing plants, however, have to meet the licensing authority’s hygienic requirements.

A number of pre-packed dried shark products sold on the Singapore market are lacking in details on product description or even the net weight, e.g. dried fin needles. Many of the canned products are packed in poor quality, easily dented cans. The net weight and the contents of the cans are reported but the consumer has no way of knowing the weight of the fins in the can.

3.2 Malaysia

3.2.1 General

The shark fin trade in Malaysia is not well documented and information is difficult to obtain. Except for the customs statistics, Government Departments do not have specific information on shark fins or shark fin traders, even though imports must be licensed.

When traders are traced and approached, most are reluctant, to a point of secrecy, to discuss their trade. The shark fin processors in particular were spoken of in almost a whisper. This gave an extremely strong impression that the processors did not want their activities known by anyone outside the trade, especially the officers from the Inland Revenue. The task was made more difficult by the fact that most traders do not advertise their activities in the yellow pages of the telephone directories or in trade directories, be it for the food industry, the chamber of commerce or the dried seafood association.

Except for the sale of popular products such as shasimi and sushis in local supermarkets, (Photo 4.10) Malaysian shark fin processors have not ventured into processing of ready-to-eat products. However, attempts were made to produce canned shark fin soups. One established Malaysian company distributes pouched shark fin soups and dishes under its own label, but the product was processed and packed in Thailand. (Photograph 4.9)

The statistics for shark fin products, previously reported as shark fin dried, salted or in brine, was sub-divided in 1989 into two separate groups. One “Dried whether or not salted but not smoked” and the other “Salted but not dried or smoked and in brine”. Although classifications for statistical purposes derived from the need to address large groups and types of fishery products, applying the grouping for shark fins is particularly clumsy. As only dried fins are traded in the region, the first group is in fact dried shark fin and the second group is salted and dried shark fin.

Starting in 1988, the item previously under the group “Shark fin prepared not in airtight containers” was simply renamed “Shark fin”. This simplification no longer describes the product and may cause confusion.

3.2.2 Trade

The Malaysian trade in shark fin is on a much smaller scale than Singapore; only about 2 % of that of Singapore. However, even with small quantities, it is nonetheless a moderately active market in all three shark fin items. Malaysia imports from more than 25 countries and exports to around 15.

Figure 8 shows the quantity and the value of shark fin products imported, exported and re-exported between 1986 and 1996. It is interesting to note that imports of all three products increased sharply in 1996. However their values showed that the unit price had become exceedingly low at Rm2 147, Rm3 548 and Rm1 375 per tonne, respectively. (Tables 9,10 &11)

Figure 8 Malaysian trade in shark fins

Imports

Before 1993 the Malaysian import tax on shark fin was 50 %. In 1993 this was reduced to 30 % and in the following year fell again to 20 % but importers were then required to pay another 5 % sales tax.

Exports

Re-exports

From 1993 the quantity of re-exported “shark fin dried whether or not salted but not smoked” were almost parallel to and in some years exceeded exports. The re-exported quantities of the other two shark product groups were almost non-existent. (Tables 9,10 &11)

3.2.3 Changing trends

Major changes have occurred as a result of the increase in the price of shark fins. Some Malaysian traders commented that, with such high prices, it is no longer worth while remaining in the trade.

It is believed that traders who used to import to Malaysia are now turning more and more to buying from source and consigning shipments directly to buyers in other countries, mainly Hong Kong and Singapore. One of the reasons for this is that Malaysian buyers want comparatively small quantities and, probably because of a lack of outlets for other fins, tend to be more selective and want the lower lobes of the caudal fins. This results in breaking up fin sets. This creates a problem for the traders because the buyers in Hong Kong and Singapore prefer to buy the fins in sets, and current high prices make them more demanding. The easier way out for these Malaysian traders is to by-pass Malaysia, which also saves them the tax payment and handling charges. It is commonly believed that the values of the products are under-declared to Malaysian customs in any case.

The Malaysian traders started the shark fin processing industry about ten years ago. They mainly process the raw fins into ready-to-cook products, wet, re-dried or frozen. No instant soups or canned products are made in Malaysia.

3.2.4 Distribution channels

As in Singapore, many Malaysian shark fin traders have multiple roles. They are often importers, exporters, wholesalers, processors and retailers all at the same time. Some are also restaurant owners, cooking and serving the products they trade. However, the distribution channels can be illustrated as in Figure 9

Figure 9 Malaysian distribution channels

3.2.5 Popular species

The most well known and highly priced shark fin in Malaysia is the Shovel-nose Ray. The most popular is probably the Blue shark. Others often mentioned by traders are Blacktip shark, Sandbar shark and Hammerhead shark. It is believed that only three % of the restaurants in Malaysia have the knowledge to use different species and type of fins to their best advantage. The users, probably for the same reason, are conservative and do not experiment unless absolutely necessary.

3.2.6 Indicative prices

Some of the prices of fins traded in Malaysia are indicated below:

Name

Product

Size (inches)

Price (Rm)

Basking shark

4 piece set

pectoral fins 36-60

1 000/kg

Black tip shark

4 piece set

pectoral fins 13

310/kg

Blue shark

4 piece set

pectoral fins 18-30

190-250/kg

Brown shark

3 piece set

pectoral fins 15

290/kg

Ryukyu shark

4 piece set

dorsal 10, pectoral 13

220/kg

Sandbar shark

4 piece set

-

300/kg

Shovel Nose Ray

3 piece set

pectoral fins 4-14

90-360/kg

Whale shark

4 piece set

pectoral fins 36-48

7-800/set

3.2.7 Malaysian standards for shark fin

The standards and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM) stated that they have not set any standards for import, export or processing of shark fin products.

Except for the products sold in reputable outlets, very few of the dried shark fin products sold on the market, whether imported or locally processed, supply the consumer with information on unit price, net weights, etc.


[*] 1 inch=2.54cm

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