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2008 is expected to be a record year for the Vietnamese catfish industry, despite of current problems in the Mekong Delta, says Helga Josupeit, FAO Globefish.

VASEP forecasts US$1.2 billion worth of pangasius exports

Vietnam's catfish exports are expected to earn $US1.2 billion in 2008, accounting for 29% of the country's total seafood export value, according to the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP). However, catfish farmers in the Mekong Delta have been badly affected by their own unplanned development. Supply went down drastically, and prices have sky-rocketed in recent months. Russia and Spain are the main outlets for Vietnamese catfish, and more markets are about to be explored. Despite the present shortage, 2008 will again be a record year for the Vietnamese catfish industry, and expectations for 2009 are even more optimistic.

Strong price increases reported

Vietnamese export by product

At present, supply is scarce, while early in 2008, there was oversupply and very low prices on the market. At present prices are moving up, producers take advantage of these high prices and are restarting investments. However, the present shortage of catfish is expected to last until next year's first quarter. Prices increased by almost 10% in just one month. Processors are rushing for the fish to meet increasing demand for exports when markets are expanded to Russia, Ukraine, East Europe and the Middle East. Large-sized catfish, the most sought after size in these markets, is in very low supply.

2008 sees the completion of moving pangasius exporting trend towards new markets in Eastern Europe Markets like Ukraine, Russia, Poland instead of USA market. Those are much easy going markets, having the habits of consuming freshwater and low price products. In recent years, Ukraine has been emerging as a big potential market for Vietnam seafood industry. From January to July 2008, Vietnam exported 40 000 MT of seafood to the country. The volume brought US$ 76 million to Vietnam. These figures were sharply up 221 percent in volume and 205 percent in value over the same period of last year. In value term, Ukraine is also the third biggest importer of Vietnam pangasius, following Russia with US$ 107.5 million and Spain (US$ 75.4 million).

In the first half of 2008, some 263 000 MT of pangasius were exported, up 53% in quantity. The value of exports was US$ 608 million, 34% more than in the same period of 2007. The growth figure already show that there was a decline in unit value: US$ 2.30/kg in the first half of 2008, and US$ 2.70/kg in the first half of 2007.

Vietnam Pangasius
Export Jan-Jul


The EU is the main market for pangasius from Viet Nam, with about 36% of imports in quantity terms. Spain is the biggest market, growing by 38%. Russia is the main market when looking at countries, doubling its imports to 44 600 MT in the first half of 2008. The unit value is at US$ 1.65/kg about one dollar below the prices paid in the EU. Egypt was identified as an interesting market, importing almost 10 000 MT, three times the 2007 import figure. In the past Russia was considered an easy going market, but at present the national veterinarian office is implementing stricter regulations on all fish products, including the Vietnamese pangasius production.

In addition to the new markets in Eastern Europe, Viet Nam also managed to recover the US market, due to reduced anti-dumping rates of the species there. Due to sluggish supply of tilapia fillets to the US market, traders are looking for valid alternatives, and pangasius comes in as a handy and inexpensive substitute. Vietnamese pangasius has to compete with the Chinese catfish, which sells at about US$ 0.10-0.15/lb lower price levels.

US catfish imports increased by 40% in the first half of 2008, compared with the same period of 2007. Main exporter was Viet Nam reporting a 72% expansion, overtaking China. The country has thus recovered from the anti-dumping problems, experienced some three years ago.

Frozen Catfish: Imports into USA in 1000 tonnes

The Spanish market is growing steadily, creating a lot of concern among traditional fishermen for the competition coming from panga fillets. Very often, the product is sold thawed, without indicating that it was previously frozen and without indicating the country of origin. This is a violation of the EU trazability food law. Prices of panga in Spain have gone up recently, as a reaction of higher raw material prices, but also in response to strong inflation rates reported from the Spanish food market.

Pangasius continues to influence whitefish market

In order to ensure the Vietnamese industry's goal of US$ 1.5 billion in pangasius export earnings in 2009, as much as 1.2 million tonnes of catfish are needed in order to produce 600 000 tonnes of fillets. The EU market seems to have reached a plafond, while US and Eastern European markets for Vietnamese catfish are expected to grow. The Chinese catfish will perform very well in the US market, recovering from the cut back in late 2007, due to food safety problems. The present food scare in China (milk products), will however put all Chinese food products under close scrutiny by all food security control authorities worldwide.

Vietnam Pangasius Export Jan-Jul/ 2008 (value)

September 2008

the Fish Site Editor

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