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GLOBEFISH - Información e Análisis Comercial en Pesquerias

Soaring Chinese demand pushes prices to historic heights despite US challenges


Continuing the trend of 2017, Viet Nam’s exports of pangasius to China were up 45 percent by value in the first quarter of this year, reaching USD 101 million as prices increased. In the United States of America, the strict inspections regime combined with tariff hikes is inhibiting Vietnamese access to the market.

Viet Nam’s pangasius export revenue has traditionally been primarily comprised of sales in the core markets of the United States of America, EU28 and China, as well as some smaller markets in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. In recent years, the relative shares of the three major markets has been changing, This shift began around a decade ago with a sharp decline in sales in the EU28 after negative media coverage and heavy competition in the whitefish category. It has continued in more recent times with the effects of various trade barriers on US import volumes.

Most recently, revenue from a fast-evolving Chinese market has been climbing rapidly, sustaining a rising price trend worldwide on limited supply growth. Early in 2018, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) indicated a target of USD 2 billion in pangasius export revenue for the year, of which some 25 percent is expected to come from Chinese sales.

Viet Nam

VASEP’s export revenue target for pangasius this year would require a total production of 1.3 million tonnes of fish, marginally above last year’s figure of 1.25 million tonnes. However, an ongoing fingerling shortage and volatile temperatures saw harvests reduced in the few months of the year, increasing the competition for raw material amongst processors and driving prices higher. Farmgate prices in this range offer appealing profit potential to Vietnamese fish farmers. As a result, pangasius breeding areas have been expanded in the Mekong Delta, particularly in the major pangasius producing province of Dong Thap. In Long An Province, authorities have had to warn local rice farmers not to breed fish in unzoned areas.

According to VASEP reported figures, Viet Nam exported pangasius worth USD 440 million in the first quarter of the year, with spiking prices ensuring that almost all destinations registered increases compared with the same period in 2017. While exports to China increased by 45 percent, the ASEAN region saw its imports of Vietnamese pangasius increase by 56.5 percent, led by Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. The ASEAN bloc has already overtaken the EU28 in terms of market share, and on its current trajectory it will overtake the United States of America in a few years, particularly given the barriers hindering US imports of Vietnamese pangasius. One of these barriers has been the implementation of a new food safety inspection procedure in late 2017, which prompted the Vietnamese authorities to file a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the regime constituted an unfair trade practice.

United States of America

In addition to the food safety inspection regime that has seen some US-destined pangasius shipments halted, the United States of America also recently increased anti-dumping duties levied on imports of Vietnamese pangasius fillet. In March this year, these duties were raised significantly from USD 2.39 per kg to USD 3.87 per kg, with some exporters subject to even higher tariffs of up to USD 7.74 per kg. With prices already being driven up globally, the additional restrictions on raw material supply in the United States of America have accentuated the trend. Although exporters are now exploring marketing for alternative product forms, the high price level is inevitably suppressing buyer demand and increasing the appeal of competing whitefish options such as Alaska pollock.


The popularity of pangasius in the Chinese market is underpinned by rapid growth in demand for whitefish products and helped by its strengthening competitive advantage when compared with domestically produced tilapia, the main competitor. Viet Nam has extensive trade links with China and its farmed pangasius is positively perceived by consumers, generating interest from buyers seeking a commodity whitefish as well as from those looking for value-added finished products that emphasise quality. This has seen Viet Nam’s reported pangasius annual exports to China grow from around USD 50 million in 2011 to almost USD 400 million last year.

European Union (Member Organization)

The decline of pangasius is ongoing in the EU28 market, with the value of Viet Nam’s EU28-destined exports falling by over half in the last 5 years. The effects of weak consumer demand, damaging media coverage and strong competition from whitefish alternatives have now been compounded by the high price level. However, there is one notable exception to the prevailing trend – the United Kingdom. According to VASEP, the United Kingdom was the only EU28 market to register an increase in pangasius imports in 2017, reaching USD 46 million after a 2.5 percent increase.

Other markets

In addition to the rising consumption in the Southeast Asian region, demand for pangasius is increasing in a diverse range of markets across Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East. Income growth, urbanization and stagnating capture fisheries in these emerging markets mean that a farmed, versatile finfish such as pangasius is well positioned for future growth.


Total pangasius production growth is expected to be low or flat in 2018. Despite the difficult market environment in the United States of America and the EU28, demand from China and smaller markets should be more than sufficient to keep prices high for the remainder of the year. Indeed, in the second quarter, raw material prices reached some of the highest levels ever seen, in the region of VND 31 000–33 000 (USD 1.37–1.43) per kg, representing an increase of around 25 percent compared with the same period last year. Meanwhile, average pangasius fillet export prices to the US market were about 50 percent higher in the first half of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017.

However, the future output resulting from increased production activity will inevitably have an effect on these price levels, and as of mid-2018 the trend had turned downwards once again with the start of the breeding season. In an extreme scenario, if these price-driven production hikes by suppliers are overly rapid, they represent a potential risk to market stability.

In the longer term, the positive demand outlook is dependent on the ability of the Vietnamese industry to maintain their position in a fiercely competitive Chinese market and also, more broadly, on a continuation of the generally strong economic situation globally that is supporting import growth in alternative markets. Vietnamese stakeholders have also been quick to identify the risk associated with overdependence on the Chinese market and have indicated their intention to plan accordingly.

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