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Prices hit record high, Vietnam earns big money from catfish

Export prices have been escalating in all markets and hitting new records in the US. Vietnam’s catfish export turnover is expected to reach $2.6 billion this year, the highest in history.

In mid-2021, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in southern Vietnam, causing disruption to the catfish industry. The situation got worse in Q3/2021, when catfish output and prices dropped dramatically.

In early September 2021, 52 out of 106 catfish processing factories in An Giang, Dong Thap, Can Tho, Hau Giang and Vinh Long provinces had to suspend operation and 70 percent of workers became jobless. Some factories maintained operation, but at only 30-40 percent of designed capacity. Vietnam’s catfish exports plummeted.

As the US and European markets have recovered, Vietnam’s catfish industry has bounced back quickly.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) reported that Vietnam set a record in catfish exports in the first five months of 2022 with $1.21 billion, up 91.2 percent year on year, compared to $1.54 billion of 2021. 

Specifically, Vietnam’s catfish exports to China – Hong Kong and the US witnessed 3-digit growth rates. The US’s frozen catfish import price from Vietnam in late April hit a new record of nearly $5 per kilogram, or $2 per kilogram higher than the same period of 2021, the highest in the past three years. As for the CPTPP (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership­) markets, catfish exports grew 29-86 percent, particularly 89 percent for the EU, 85 percent for Thailand and 51 percent for Brazil.

Catfish exports to boom

In its latest report about the seafood sector, BIDV Securities predicted that the catfish industry would see strong growth in 2022 thanks to the sharp rise in demand for catfish in the major markets of the US, EU and China after the post-pandemic period.

The US tends to increase catfish imports as inventory level has dropped to very low levels after two years of pandemic. Meanwhile, the catfish farming area in the US has decreased for the third consecutive year, affecting the local catfish supply. These factors will create momentum for Vietnam's catfish industry to grow strongly since the fourth quarter of 2021.

According to the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), the Russia-Ukraine conflict has had a big impact on the world’s white meat fish. However, with six more factories having been added to the list of catfish exporters allowed to the US, Vietnam’s catfish exports will increase in the coming time.

The impact on the white meat fish market also gives an opportunity to Vietnam to boost its catfish exports to the EU.

As for China, the inventory level is nearly exhausted, so the market will accept imports from Vietnam at the current prices. As China is going to reopen its market after the pandemic, the consumption level of the market would be nearly the same with the US. This is the factor that determines Vietnam’s catfish industry growth in the second quarter of 2022.

Truong Thi Le Khanh, Chair of Vinh Hoan Joint Stock Company, a big seafood exporter, said the US, Europe and China’s catfish demand has bounced back because the pandemic has been contained and there is a shortage. This will benefit Vietnam’s catfish industry.

Vietnam’s exporters are also targeting potential markets such as Mexico, Egypt and Thailand. Catfish processing factories are running at full capacity to satisfy orders. 

MARD initially estimated that Vietnam would export over $1.6 billion worth of catfish this year. However, by mid-June, export turnover had already reached $1.4 billion.

Tam An

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