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Stimulating the demand for Alaska’s seafood exports and setting the stage for business transactions were top priorities of a week-long trade mission to China conducted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). “China is obviously thriving amidst a global downturn,” observed Joe Jacobson, director of ASMI’s international marketing program. “China’s rapidly growing middle class is willing to spend something extra for high quality, safe imported food.”

Members of the Alaska seafood industry met in early November with members of the seafood trade from each major region of China, and participated in the 2009 China Seafood and Fisheries Expo, where ASMI’s exhibit was a beehive of activity.

“The trade mission bookended the seafood trade show with meetings in Shanghai and Hong Kong that focused on supplying the Chinese domestic market,” Jacobson explained. “Many of the buyers we met with in those cities were not present at the trade show, so the meetings in each different city gave the trade mission participants a chance to meet a new set of buyers. Many Alaska seafood industry people have visited China’s seafood reprocessing centers before, but for a number of Alaska companies this trade mission offered something new: the opportunity to visit major cities and zero in on the domestic market.”

The trade mission helped the Alaska seafood industry develop relationships in each geographic region with the companies that supply China’s rapidly growing international hotel chains, supermarkets and quick service restaurant chains. Alaska seafood company representatives met in Shanghai with twenty prominent seafood importers as well as staff of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), which provides funding for ASMI’s international promotions.

During the trade mission ASMI worked with the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association in a joint effort to stimulate trade with China. A targeted trade activity held at the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, Shanghai, included five Alaska seafood companies and food producers from Washington, Oregon and California. Guests attending the event were welcomed by Mr. James W. “Jim” Miller, USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, who spoke of the U.S. and China’s trade relationship in terms of agriculture and seafood. Under Secretary Miller was in China accompanying U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mr. Tom Vilsack, who was in China to further U.S. – China trade relations. U.S. President Barack Obama will be visiting China next week, and is expected to visit Shanghai and Beijing.

Shanghai is much in the international limelight: it boasts more than 4000 buildings exceeding 20 stories, and in between the skyscrapers dominating the skyline are construction cranes at work:  the Shanghai Tower, when completed is expected to reach 128 stories, becoming the second tallest building in the world. The Shanghai World Expo is slated for May 2010, and in what was widely hailed this month as a breakthrough for the media and entertainment sector, China gave the nod to Walt Disney Co.’s plans for a theme park in Shanghai that may represent the largest foreign investments in China ever made.

ASMI and ASMI trade mission members promoted Alaska seafood during the 2009 China Seafood and Fisheries Expo in Qingdao. There was a greater presence by the Alaska seafood industry at this trade show than ever before; the tables set aside in the ASMI exhibit space for business meetings were seldom empty. The ASMI reception for the seafood trade in Qingdao was attended by 140 seafood trade members and eight Alaska seafood companies, who were all welcomed in a speech by Mr. William Westman, Minister-Counselor with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Beijing.

Some of the trade mission participants went on to Hong Kong for meetings with key traders. The city is recognized as an important stand-alone market for Alaska seafood, as well as a gateway for seafood products headed to both Southeast Asia and mainland China.

Companies that participated with ASMI in activities held in association with the trade mission and trade show include Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, SOGDA, Bering Select Seafoods, Snopac and American Seafoods. Also exhibiting at the 2009 China Fisheries and Seafood Expo were Pacific Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and SOGDA. Other Alaska seafood company representatives doing business at the trade show in China used the meeting spaces at the Alaska Seafood exhibit, and were welcomed as participants in ASMI activities.

China ranks as the world’s second largest export market for Alaska seafood products, and while for many years the country factored into the Alaska seafood equation chiefly as a reprocessing center, the buying power of Chinese consumers is growing rapidly and more Alaska seafood is being offered for sale in grocery stores and restaurants. “China is an emerging market with immense potential,” explains Ray Riutta, ASMI Executive Director. “Lots of our work in China supports the Alaska Seafood brand through educating the buyers and the users. When we send Alaska chefs like Al Levinson and Naomi Everett to China, they are teaching retail seafood managers and culinary students how to properly handle and prepare frozen Alaska seafood. When we conduct a trade mission it allows people on both sides of the table to become more fully acquainted with the potential opportunities. We are gaining exposure for Alaska products with the top retail supermarket chains, quick service restaurant chains, and the trend-setting luxury hotels. ” China imported 175,585 metric tons of Alaska seafood in 2008, worth $439 million. Alaska products already popular in China include geoduck clams, sea cucumber, king crab, snow crab and whitefish varieties such as Pacific cod, Greenland turbot and black cod.  There is also growing demand for salmon, salmon roe, halibut and flatfish like flounder and sole.  Initial feedback from chefs and show attendees indicates that there may also be a strong market for products like herring roe and pollock roe, which were sampled at the ASMI booth.

The increasing interest in the Chinese market being expressed by Alaska seafood companies is part of a natural evolution. ASMI has been building trade relations in China for more than 15 years, positioning Alaska to take advantage of future growth in Alaska seafood opportunities in the domestic Chinese market. China is ranked by some market watchers as the world’s top future retail market.

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For more information please contact Laura Fleming, Communications Director, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute,, 1(800) 478-2903, (907) 465-5563.