HA NOI (VNS)— Viet Nam's fish and seafood exports have seen more and more rejections by three out of four major global markets.
Viet Nam was a relatively poor performer in the fishery export sector, said Professor Spencer Henson from the UK's Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at a scientific workshop in Ha Noi yesterday.
He explained his conclusion by drawing the participants' attention to the relative rejection rate, which measures the ratio of a country's share of total rejections to the share of total imports.
"In other words, Viet Nam's share of rejections is more than its share of imports in all major export markets (including the EU, the US and Japan) except for Australia," he noted.
Financial losses stemming from these rejections average an estimated US$14 million per year, the workshop heard.
While the main reasons for rejection differed across export markets, bacterial contamination was frequently cited, as were veterinary drug residues (a problem for the EU market), hygienic conditions and poor labeling (the US) and other contaminants such as chemicals and "foreign bodies" (Japan).
Certifying tra fish would be an important step towards reducing such rejections, said Nguyen Hoai Nam, Deputy Secretary of the Viet Nam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP).
So far, 103 tra fish farms nationwide have been certified, accounting for 40 per cent of the total tra fish aquaculture area, according to VASEP.
However, during the last few years, importers have imposed increasingly complicated safety standards related to chemical and drug residues and certification.
There are more and more voluntary certificates (GlobalGAP, ASC, BAP, to name a few) which have many advantages, but also raise production costs, reduce consumers' trust and even create misunderstandings between producers and major consumption markets, Nam noted.
He also emphasised the fact that domestic production costs (including salary, electricity, water, packaging, chemicals and testing) are increasing while export prices tend to stand still, discouraging farmers.
It is too costly for farmers to satisfy these standards if they are not rewarded with higher prices for their products, he stressed.
Many other challenges also pose difficulties on seafood imports from Viet Nam, such as diseases, international anti-dumping and anti-subsidy lawsuits, competition from other countries and the impact of climate change as well as strict market regulations on food safety, tracing, environmental responsibility and resource protection.
The major problem facing the Vietnamese tra fish and shrimp industry was contamination, mainly due to the improper usage of feed and veterinary drugs, according to studies conducted by lecturers Aya Suzuki from Tokyo University and Vu Hoang Nam from Viet Nam's Foreign Trade University with assistance from VASEP and other local researchers.
UNIDO's Asian Report proposed that Viet Nam support the development of leading firms and provide necessary technical and financial support to those entering international markets for the first time.
This would lead to the expansion of contract farming, improving product quality, it added.
Technical assistance and information services for farmers and producers are also necessary for them to understand the changing market environment, workshop participants said.
These would help them understand new food safety standards (both mandatory and voluntary) and help them use drugs and chemicals appropriately, they pointed out.
Participants also commented that to preserve the position of small-scale farmers in the value chain, public labs should be established. International efforts to create standardised certifications could also help the situation.
The workshop was held by the National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department (NAFIQAD) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in co-ordination with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Japanese Institute of Developing Economies (IDE-JETRO). — VNS