Hunchun’s seafood ven­dors lose mil­lions as sanc­tions bite

Mer­chants hope lo­cal govt will help soften blow

Global Times - Weekend - - TOP NEWS - By Chen Qingqing in Hunchun

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.

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