Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fisheries sector not ready for Western markets: MFF

Myanmar's fisheries sector is not yet ready to take advantage of the proposed easing of sanctions by the European Union and United States, exporters said last week.

“Even though it looks like sanctions will be eased, it is just an announcement made at high levels of the government – and the practical measures needed to make it reality have not been taken,” said U Han Tun, general co-secretary of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, during a weekly meeting on October 9.

“We can start getting ready for when we can export to those markets, even though that is not yet possible,” said U Han Tun, general co-secretary of Myanmar Fisheries Federation (MFF).

He added that the fisheries industry is not ready to supply EU and US markets immediately because the commonly farmed species in Myanmar are not attractive to consumers in those markets, he said.

“Myanmar mostly farms rohu [carp], a freshwater species that is popular with Bengladeshis.

“However, Myanmar also exported 8000 tonnes a year of freshwater prawn to the US before the sanctions were imposed in 2003,” he said.

He added that Western consumers mostly prefer saltwater prawn, as well as tilapia and sea bass.

U Han Tun said the US imports at least 500,000 tonnes of saltwater prawn a year, while China exports 300,000 tonnes of tilapia to the US a year.

He added that Myanmar could also start exporting sea bass to the EU if it is allowed to access the globalised system of preferences (GSP) for least developed countries, adding to the 240,000 tonnes supplied by Vietnam annually.

“Vietnam is the main sea bass supplier to the international market. But Myanmar still has chance for export this fish to the EU,” he said.

However, there are other non-tax barriers that might prevent exports from Myanmar to the EU and US that are intended to protect domestic companies, he said.

U Han Tun said Vietnamese exporters have previously been subjected to tighter-than-usual testing by US authorities.

U Win Kyaing, MFF general secretary, said adding Myanmar onto the GSP list would provide quick profits to exporters – and increase competition.

However, he said the demand would likely outweigh supply.

“We need to do more market research to identify which species are wanted by different markets. There’s not much point trying to export to the EU and US markets because demand for that species in weak,” he said.

“But we should farm carp in smaller quantities because it’s a relatively safe market for us,” he said.

Daw Toe Nandar Tin, spokesperson of the Myanmar Fisheries Products Exporters and Processors Association, said the industry was battling a number of other problems that hindered its ability to make high-quality products.

“Exporters need 24-hour electricity to make fisheries products, as well as a stable exchange rate,” she said.

“GSP is a dream for us and has not been implemented yet,” she added.

“Our aim is to get exports back to the levels they were before sanctions were imposed in 2003 for as the first step,” she said.

However, U Soe Win, chair of the meeting and an MFF member, said that not only exporters but also producers need to start preparing for when remaining sanctions are dropped.