Current focus is on the ‘Big 4’ – the US, China, Japan and South Korea, but this could change.

ASEAN the next big fish for Vietnam’s seafood industry
Vietnamese seafood export to ASEAN countries have been surging for the last 20 years. Photo by Reuters/Kham
Almost unnoticed, ASEAN is emerging as big market with big potential for Vietnamese seafood, industry insiders say.

Vietnam exported $612 million worth of seafood last year to ASEAN countries, 9.2 times the $66 million in 1998.

Local media reports have cited the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) as saying that last year, Vietnam exported seafood to all nine countries in the regional bloc.

Of these, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore were the largest importers. Thailand bought $248 million worth of seafood from Vietnam last year, accounting for 40 percent of total export value to ASEAN countries. Seafood export to Thailand reflected the regional intake, multiplying nine times in the last 20 years.

Philippines, in the second place, imported seafood worth $132 million, a 2,000-fold increase over the paltry $63,000 in 1999.

Export of sea fish to ASEAN countries reached $289 million last year, making it Vietnam’s main seafood export item to the regional bloc. Squid and octopus came in second at $71 million, more than 10 times the $7 million in 1998.

The surge and potential of the ASEAN market notwithstanding, Vietnamese businesses have kept their main focus trained on the traditionally top markets for seafood export – the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea.

These four countries account for 52.7 percent of total export value of Vietnamese seafood last year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

In the first four months this year, China recorded a strong year-on-year growth of 28.8 percent in seafood imports from Vietnam. China is also the largest importer of Vietnamese pangasius fish, and potentially of shrimp in the future, a VASEP report says.

The association has urged local businesses to look at ASEAN as the next potential market, saying establishment of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 has created an opportunity for Vietnam’s seafood industry with significant tax incentives.

Moreover, ASEAN population is estimated to reach 790 million in 2050, creating a considerable demand for food. VASEP estimates that seafood consumption in the bloc will increase from 24.5 million tons in 2015 to 37 million in 2030, and per capita seafood consumption will grow from 38.4 kilograms per person a year to 51.5 kilograms in 2030.

Vietnam exported $8.32 billion worth of seafood last year, a growth of 18 percent over 2016.

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