Speaking at a meeting in HCM City last Friday to review seafood exports, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said despite the economic challenge, "we should seek out ways to increase exports while ensuring the quality and prestige of Vietnamese seafood products in the world market."
Figures from the Viet Nam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) show the country’s seafood exports in the Jan-Mar period reached nearly 167,000 tonnes worth US$579.3 million, a year-on-year fall of 8 per cent in volume and value.
VASEP attributed the drop to lower demand from major consumption markets like the EU, the US and Japan as well as difficulties in getting raw material.
Until March 15, some 65 local seafood products had been exported to 122 markets, down 37 over last year, with seafood exports to all major markets all going down, except for China, Australia and ASEAN that recorded two-digit growth.
Phat said that to ensure quality of seafood exports, a consistent process was needed from breeding facilities to processing factories and urged local quality control departments to guide and monitor farmers in implementing proper farming techniques.
He said the ministry would also intensify product hygiene and sanitation inspections.
Phat said the Government had pumped mote capital into trade promotion programmes but asked VASEP to submit clearer proposals for the industry.
Regarding monetary and exchange rate policies, the Government was considering widening the trading band for foreign exchange transactions to favour businesses the most, Phat said.
He said some businesses had already had access to preferential loans provided from the economic stimulus package.
The ministry would propose that the Ministry of Industry and Trade reconsider power rates during the morning peak-time hours, saying the latest hike in power prices would hurt seafood exporters now already struggling in a tough market situation.
The meeting highlighted other issues facing the aquaculture sector, including planning of breeding areas, infrastructure investment, production of breeds and feed.
The minister said the Government had set aside VND4 trillion ($235.3 million) as part of the stimulus scheme for localities to build and upgrade aquaculture facilities.
Proposals on the plate
VASEP made several proposals to deal with difficulties currently facing the local aquaculture industry, particularly amidst the economic slowdown.
VASEP chairman Tran Thien Hai said businesses should focus on expanding their markets, seeking new customers in traditional markets through innovative trade promotions.
They should also call on foreign partners to come and survey the local market to enhance exports, he said.
More business-farmer co-operation would be necessary to maintain quality and keep prices stable with exporters providing farmers on contract with breeds, feed, veterinary medicine and guidance on techniques to ensure raw material supply, Hai said.
The import of raw materials should be strengthened and a strategy for value-added products mapped out, he added.
Efforts should also be made to create a bridge with export markets that will help obtain exact information about demand and quality requirements. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development was asked to intensify hygiene inspections of tra and basa catfish to maintain the prestige of the local pangansius fish and protect the interests of law-abiding businesses.
Chu Van An, deputy general director of Minh Phu Seafood Corporation, said haphazard planning and poor infrastructure had pushed Vietnamese export shrimp prices higher than other countries in the region.
Besides, regional countries had animal feed for shrimp at prices 20 per cent lower than in Viet Nam which had to depend on imported feed.
And most shrimp farmers were short of capital to invest in needed infrastructure, he said.
Tran Van Dung of the Ba Ria-Vung Tau Import-Export Processing Joint-Stock Co, said banks needed to help businesses deal with difficulties by facilitating credit access.
He proposed that the foreign exchange rate trading band be further widened and exporters supported to access other markets apart from their traditional major ones.
Duong Ngoc Minh, general director of Hung Vuong Co and chief of the executive board set up to manage exports to the Russian market, said the ministry should work closely with localities to ensure the Quality of tra catfish, particularly in An Giang province and Can Tho City.
"Quality control is a prerequisite for the survival of local tra catfish."
Nguyen Van Ich, director of Nha Trang Seafood Company, called for prices of animal feed to be stabilised in favour of farmers.
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