While lobster exporters have been facing some COVID-19 obstacles moving product into China this summer, not all the news is bad.
“In general, markets have recovered faster than we expected and we are cautiously optimistic that this will continue through the summer,” said Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada (LCC).
Irvine said the European Union markets are “opening slowly with volumes increasing in live and processed products as the summer progresses.”
In the U.S. “there is concern about the spike in (COVID-19) cases in the southern and western United States. The smaller lobster tail market has strengthened in recent days at new price levels for retail, but larger tails have fallen in price,” said Irvine.
“Lobster meat is also starting to move at lower price levels for the summer market in the U.S.,” adding Father’s Day live lobster promotions “helped move a significant volume of product in the U.S. and Canada.”
As for China, while demand “remains reasonable, Beijing remains in virtual lockdown for seafood imports right now,” said Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.
In response to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Beijing market, Chinese custom authorities started to randomly test live lobster shipments for the presence of COVID-19 earlier this summer which caused delays in having product released to customers, said Irvine.
“There have been some changes to the time required and some lessening of the testing, but as of today, the issue remains a challenge and an unknown for live shippers from Canada.”
In addition to random testing of products by Chinese authorities, some industry stakeholders are being asked by Chinese trade associations or importers to provide a statement or a letter of attestation confirming they are following internationally recognized guidance to prevent the contamination of food and food products with COVID-19, said Muise.
“All Canadian food exporters follow the requirements of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) which meet or exceeds all international guidelines.”
Irvine said the LCC is getting some clarity and a better understanding of any risks involved in signing the affidavits requested by the General Administration of Customs from China.
“Most live shippers are signing the document, or a customized version of the document, as it does not change the current terms of trade which have always meant that our commercial transactions are subject to Chinese law on arrival in China,” said Irvine. “We also know that COVID cannot be transmitted by food products or live animals so the risk to exporters in signing the document is very low to non-existent.”
Even so, “we need to be extremely cautious on what we sign and the impacts of our signed documents,” said Muise.
“Because the CFIA feels the request comes from industry in China to industry in Canada, the CFIA will not make a recommendation to sign or not. As an industry association devoted to the well being of our member companies, we are working to produce a statement that will give our valued customers the assurance that our food products exported to China meet the Chinese governments requirements. Our companies in the Alliance greatly appreciate the Asian market. Like virtually everything in a pandemic world, the circumstance in China continues a work in progress.”
Muise said exporters “are very confident that COVID-19 is not spread from seafood shipments,” noting the CFIA has declared that officially.
“Scientists and food safety authorities around the world are closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19. There is no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus. At this time, there have been no reported cases of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.”
Despite the roadblocks, lobster shipments into China have resumed, said Irvine and the charter schedule for July “looks promising.”
Meanwhile the LCC continues to implement its Long-term Value Strategy and have had “very good response from our Instagram campaign in Canada,” said Irvine, adding a trial virtual trade show for seafood and agri-food held by the provincial governments and ACOA in June “seemed to go very well.”
Muise said all members of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, like everyone in Canada, “have been challenged by COVID-19 during the past five months. Those who export product have been particularly tested with issues like reduced market demand and prices, decreased transportation and border limitations. We will proceed with caution one day at a time.”