China’s longstanding role as the world’s top seafood exporter has been upended in certain categories, according to 2023 trade data compiled by Beijing-based seafood and meat consultancy firm Seabridge.
Norway has eclipsed China in a handful of seafood export product categories, according to Seabridge, thanks to strong global demand for salmon and a weakened Chinese processing sector that has suffered from shaky export demand for its products and tepid domestic consumer spending.
Seabridge CEO Fan Xubing clarified that China remains the world’s top exporter of processed products, explaining that Norway has solely gained ground in non-processed, fresh product categories.
“Norway is the world’s number-one exporter of seafood, but that refers to the global ranking of primary products,” he said.
Even though China has maintained its top spot in terms of sheer seafood export volume, the country’s seafood exports fell 12.3 percent year over year in 2023, with the fall even sharper for non-processed primary products (customs code H.S. 0300), which declined 14.5 percent year over year. Elsewhere, there was a 9.5 percent dip in shipments of prepared or preserved fish (H.S. 1604) and a 9.8 percent drop in highly processed shrimp, crab, and squid (H.S.1605).
A sign of potential concern for Chinese exporters is that the H.S. 0300 category that saw such a steep drop-off is the country’s most valuable seafood export section, comprising 53.9 percent of total shipments in 2023.
“China’s aquaculture and marine fishing production have both decreased, making it difficult for [China] to export primary aquatic products,” Fan said. “There are fewer and fewer products.”
Seabridge also pointed to rising Chinese labor costs as another reason for the country’s slipping seafood export dominance, as the jump in costs have caused the country’s exporters to “gradually lose our price advantage in primary aquatic product processing.” 
Worsening matters, American buyers have continued to cut purchases from China since the onset of the Sino-U.S. trade war in 2018, according to Seabridge, with the two countries drifting even further apart recently, so much so that the future of the World Trade Organization has become uncertain.
To replace Chinese products, Seabridge said Western markets like the U.S. have … 

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Mark Godfrey is an Irish journalist covering the agriculture and fisheries sectors in Asia, with a focus on China. Proficient in Mandarin, he has frequently traveled across China’s fisheries and aquaculture regions and learned the inner workings of China’s corporate world during a nearly three-year stint at the Financial Times’ “China Confidential” publication. He has also reported widely across Southeast Asia and the former Soviet Union. He has educational certificates in agriculture and food science, as well as Mandarin.
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