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One Man's Opinion: Get used to changes in China
By Peter Redmayne
September 01, 2008
The recent Olympics in Beijing gave China a chance to
showcase its remarkable economic progress to 4 billion people
around the world. Those fortunate Olympic attendees saw
glittering new skyscrapers and shopping centers. The swarms of
black bicycles that once clogged the streets of the capital are
mostly gone now, replaced by some 400,000 new cars that hit the
city's roads in the last year alone.
I've been visiting China for more than 15 years and the
changes in the past two or three years that have transformed
this economic juggernaut into an increasingly affluent society
have been breathtaking. The changes in China are having a
profound impact on the global seafood industry, some good and
some not so good.
There's no escaping the growing influence China has on the
seafood industry, since the country is both the world's largest
seafood exporter and the world's largest seafood market. An
increasingly affluent society that adores eating fish is good
news for seafood producers looking for new markets.
Walk into a seafood restaurant in most major Chinese cities
and you can order a smorgasbord of seafood from around the
world. Australian lobster, Canadian geoduck, Norwegian salmon,
South African abalone; well, you get the idea. The Chinese
prefer imported seafood and they're increasingly able to afford
The Chinese are also big buyers of cheaper fish like
pollock, chum salmon, cod, yellowfin sole, squid, ocean perch
halibut, which they turn into value-added
products for export. Over the past 10 years or so, seafood
buyers in Asia, North America and Europe have become addicted
to this seemingly endless supply of low-priced products.
The key to the growth of China's big reprocessing industry,
which is centered in the northeastern cities of Qingdao and
Dalian, has been the country's vast supply of cheap labor. But
here, too, China is changing.
Workers who used to cost $100 a month now cost $300 a month
- if you can find them. Harder to find, more expensive labor,
as well as a strong currency, have crimped the margins of
China's secondary processors, who are finding they have no
option but to pass on their higher costs. So you may as well
get used to paying more money for reprocessed seafood from
Some companies that process seafood in China are considering
moving some of their business to countries like Vietnam, which
have cheaper labor. But countries like Vietnam are small
compared to China and already a surge of new factories is
pushing wages up there.
It will be hard to duplicate China's big value-added seafood
industry anywhere else. China's biggest seafood processors are
already adjusting to the new reality by investing in
labor-saving technology they used to scoff at. But that costs
money, which means down the road there will probably be fewer,
but bigger, value-added seafood processors in China.
Change is a constant in China these days and there is little
doubt that China's impact on the fish business will only grow
with time. The challenge facing the global seafood industry is
how to deal with it.
Contributing Editor Peter Redmayne lives in Seattle