Hunchun’s seafood vendors lose millions as sanctions bite
Merchants hope local govt will help soften blow
Seafood merchants in Hunchun, a border city in Northeast China’s Jilin Province, are suffering financially after incurring losses of hundreds of millions of yuan due to the recent ban on the import of seafood products from North Korea, but they are still supportive of the UN Security Council sanctions.
On Friday morning, local vendors looked relaxed as they lounged in the sun outside their stores, but many admitted they were worried about their businesses.
Hunchun has benefitted from its position close to the border of Russia and North Korea, and it has several trade and export zones.
“The stores here are usually family-run – the husband goes to North Korea to source products, and the wife sees to the customers,” one local merchant surnamed Gao told the Global Times.
There are fears that the sanctions on imported seafood from North Korea will impact the entire seafood industry in the city.
“I had to leave about 200 tons of products on the bridge across the Sino-North Korean bridge yesterday, and they were eventually returned to North Korea,” said Liang Jingbo, a local businessman who has been in the cross-border trade for more than a decade.
Liang was referring to an incident on Wednesday afternoon when about 500 tons of seafood from North Korea was stopped at China’s border port of Quanhe in Hunchun.
His total losses were estimated at up to 300 million yuan ($44.93 million), Liang said.
The entire cargo was returned to North Korea following negotiations between Chinese and North Korean authorities, an official from the entry-exit inspection and quarantine bureau in Hunchun said Thursday.
China’s Ministry of Commerce on Monday announced the decision to forbid imports of coal, iron, ore, lead and seafood from North Korea starting from Wednesday.
However, some Chinese businessmen had already entered North Korea to replenish their stocks that day and had not heard about the new sanctions, which caused this dilemma, Liang added.
“I lost about 2 million yuan this time because I was not kept in the loop,” Liang said.
Worried about future
Those who sell fresh seafood products said they are not so anxious as those who sell frozen seafood products, as most of the goods blocked on the bridge and sent back to North Korea were frozen seafood. However, some of them said they are deeply worried about the future of their businesses.
“About 50 percent of our products are imported from North Korea, that’s hundreds of tons,” Wang Xuejie, another businessman who runs a store nearby, told the Global Times.
“The products [imported] from North Korea are more diverse, compared to those from Russia. As the supply declines, the price will inevitably rise,” he said.
Wang said he would try to tap into new markets for resources, as the sanctions on North Korea were imposed by the UN Security Council, which was supported by the Chinese government. “We’re in line with the government’s decision,” he said.
The merchant surnamed Gao, who usually imports about 500 kilograms of crab and shellfish from North Korea daily, said he still hopes that the local government in Hunchun will provide some help for smaller business firms affected by the ban.
“We’ll definitely support the sanctions, but the government should also come up with some measures to help us tackle the challenges our businesses are facing,” Gao said.
A local official, who asked for anonymity, told the Global Times on Friday that the impact on the seafood industry will be limited.
“Local industry has been shifting from low-end to high value-added, so small businesses may bear some losses in the short-term, but the volume of imported seafood from North Korea is small compared to that from Russia. Those merchants will have to reconsider their business strategy to be long-term and more sustainable,” he said.
In 2016, the seafood industry in Hunchun was valued at 8.3 billion yuan, accounting for 20.5 percent of total industrial output, media reported in January, citing local officials. The city imports about 400,000 tons of seafood products every year, among which 150,000 tons are from Russia and North Korea.