Australia's seafood exports to China recovering after lockdown
Published: Apr 16, 2020 03:43 AM

A consumer takes photo of lobsters at a supermarket in Hangzhou, capital of East China’s Zhejiang Province. Photo: VCG

Australia's coronavirus-battered exports of premium seafood to China are recovering as China gradually moves out of lockdown, with exporters being encouraged to engage with e-commerce which is favored by Chinese consumers as many still avoid going out.

China's demand for premium seafood is gradually on the rise again, though it remains sporadic and prices are much lower compared to pre COVID-19 levels, the China-Australia Chamber of Commerce (AustCham China) told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Barry Dun, CEO of Australian Reef Fish Trading Co (ARF), based in Cairns Australia, told the Global Times that the company's exports to China had recovered to 15 to 25 percent of the pre-outbreak volume.

But Dun said the company's exports to China are limited to one flight per week, due to the availability and cost of air freight. About 80 percent of Australian food exports to China, such as seafood, chilled meat products and horticulture were transported via air freight prior to COVID-19, according to data from AustCham China.

To encourage exports, the Australian government ramped up efforts to secure freight access for agricultural and fisheries exporters on April 1 by launching an AU$110 million ($69.7 million) initiative to help them sell products to key overseas markets like China, while bringing back key medical supplies.

Despite the impact from COVID-19, Dun showed optimism for growing demand from China. "The apparently successful control of the virus in China will allow for demand to increase… from May onwards," he said, noting that the firm and its Chinese partners have made significant investments to keep the supply chain operating in anticipation of the Chinese economy recovering.

Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, the online economy has boomed in China. Official data showed that the transaction volume for online fresh groceries in Shanghai reached 8.8 billion yuan ($1.25 billion) in the first quarter, skyrocketing 167 percent year-on-year.

The use of Hema Fresh and other online platforms for fresh food are beginning to become more popular amongst Chinese consumers, which will increase opportunities for Australian exporters to begin working and engaging with e-commerce in the future, AustCham China said.

In 2019, food exports from Australia to China contributed significantly to Australia's almost AU$150 billion in goods exports.

"Significant opportunities for trade between Australia and China still exist despite the clear disruptions caused by the recent pandemic. In particular Australia will continue to preserve our agricultural export trade with China, which represents 70 percent of the market," the chamber said.