Norwegian exports to China show dramatic drop

Trond Davidsen of the employers’ organisation Seafood Norway

NORWEGIAN salmon exports to China have slumped by up to 90 per cent among some companies since Covid-19, or the coronavirus, struck the country more than three weeks ago, the state broadcaster NRK is reporting.

And it is not just the Chinese mainland which is being affected. Air freight flights to Asia generally are at an all-time low.

However, fresh salmon appears to have suffered less dramatically, with shipments down by 31 per cent, said the Norwegian Seafood Council.

Despite the crisis, prices have held up reasonably well, with fresh salmon last week making NOK 65 per kilo and frozen, much of it sold on contract, at NOK 57.41 per kg.

The sky high levels reported at the start of the year are now regarded as an aberration, caused mainly by lack of supply.

But Trond Davidsen, deputy managing director of the employers’ organisation Seafood Norway, described the situation as becoming challenging for a number of companies.

He told NRK: ‘We do not have figures for the entire industry. But some companies have reported that they have only sold a tenth of what they sold at this time last year.’

The Norwegian Seafood Council, which promotes the industry abroad, has temporarily closed its office in China due to the danger of infection.

Norwegian salmon exports to China were worth about NOK 1.6 billion (£132 million) in 2019. But that figure has to be set against seafood exports to the European Union, which are running at more than NOK 50 billion (£4.1 billion) a year.

Most salmon sent to China is consumed as food service in restaurants, a sector which has been badly affected with the population being encouraged to remain at home.

Nevertheless, with more salmon on the global stage, prices have dropped by more than NOK 20 per kg.

Chile has halted shipments to China and other rival countries such as Scotland, Iceland and Canada will be similarly affected to a greater or lesser degree as they start scrambling to find alternative markets.

The first official indication of the coronavirus ‘hit’ should become evident when the Norwegian Seafood Council publishes its February exports figures early next month.

However, industry is expecting sales to China to rapidly recover once the outbreak starts to recede.