Nova Sco­tia seafood mov­ing fast into Asia

Co-op Fish­eries keeps fo­cus on Asia de­spite Canada's re­cent trade deal with Euro­pean Union

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - CAROLYN BAR­BER

Vic­to­ria Co-op­er­a­tive Fish­eries Gen­eral Man­ager Os­borne Burke ex­pects the Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment (CETA) be­tween Canada and the Euro­pean Union signed on Sept. 21 to be good for busi­ness. For now, though, his fo­cus is on Asia.

“In my opin­ion, we’re go­ing to be mov­ing faster into the Asian mar­ket and tak­ing ad­van­tage of what we can there, ver­sus Euro­pean mar­kets,” said Burke on Nov. 9, fol­low­ing his trip to the China Fish­eries & Seafood Expo, Asia's largest seafood trade ex­hi­bi­tion, held Novem­ber 1-3, 2017, in Qing­dao, China.

Vic­to­ria Co-op was one of four­teen com­pa­nies at the Nova Sco­tia seafood booth in Qing­dao. The trade show was Burke’s sec­ond trip to Asia this fall, fol­low­ing a Septem­ber trade mis­sion ac­com­pa­nied by Premier Stephen Mac­neil and Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture/fish­eries and Aqua­cul­ture Keith Col­well.

“It’s go­ing to be a slower build up in Europe with the free trade agree­ment, but there’s a lot of po­ten­tial be­cause tar­iffs are fall­ing. This es­pe­cially helps with live lob­ster which we sell there now.”

Burke said dif­fer­ent pack­ag­ing meth­ods and Euro­pean pref­er­ence for smaller prod­uct sizes and quan­ti­ties may slow growth into the EU mar­ket.

Mean­while, Asia al­ready has a huge ap­petite for a wide spec­trum of seafood. Its ap­petite for Cana­dian brands is grow­ing.

“They want good Cana­dian prod­uct from a pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment that they know is safe to eat. Canada, in gen­eral, is as­so­ci­ated with safe seafood.”

Three years ago, Vic­to­ria Co-op­er­a­tive Fish­eries wasn’t sell­ing any prod­uct in Asia.

Now, they sell over $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally to cus­tomers in China, Viet­nam and Ja­pan with no signs of slow­ing down.

“Viet­nam’s econ­omy is 10-15 years be­hind China, but it’s the next China. There’s tremen­dous po­ten­tial,” said Burke.

The Co-op now ships di­rect to Viet­nam, re­spond­ing to cus­tomers’ de­sire to deal di­rectly with fish­er­men. In yet an­other new twist, Burke now wears a bro­ker hat on oc­ca­sion for his cus­tomers in Asia, sourc­ing prod­ucts like the Jonah crab not found in Cape Bre­ton.

Value-added prod­ucts are an­other mar­ket to con­sider, and Burke ad­mits it is one he has barely be­gun to tap. He is in dis­cus­sions with a Hong Kong cus­tomer about pro­vid­ing steamed crab shells that restau­rants can use to serve seafood dishes, per­haps one day sell­ing stuffed crab shells in re­tail packs to cus­tomers.

Main­tain­ing mo­men­tum in the Asian mar­ket means closely mon­i­tor­ing cus­tomer needs and pri­or­i­tiz­ing re­la­tion­ships above all else.

“In Asia, you can't just drop in, sell some­thing and say good­bye. You've got to build that re­la­tion­ship, build that trust. It doesn't hap­pen overnight. Some­times, it may take two or three years. We have a cus­tomer in Shang­hai. Ev­ery time we go there, we go into their home with their fam­ily and their work­ers and we sit around in the evening in their home and eat din­ner.”

United states, China and the Euro­pean Union are Nova Sco­tia’s three largest seafood ex­port mar­kets. Other fun facts: 35% of Canada’s shell­fish ex­ports come from Nova Sco­tia. In 2016, Nova Sco­tia ex­ported 146,100 Tonnes of fish and seafood val­ued at $1.8 bil­lion. Graphic and data cour­tesy of Nova Sco­tia Seafood.

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