Seafood exports are geared to far exceed last fiscal's total $ 134 million

Dec 08 - 14, 2003

Despite a sharp reduction in prices locally due to eroding demand caused by fear of contamination of coastal waters of Karachi by the worst ever oil spill incident off the Karachi coast the seafood exports are geared to far exceed last fiscal's total $ 134 million.

If the first-four-month performance of the seafood exports for the month ended October 31 is any indication the massive oil spill from the Malta registered Tasman Spirit has failed to make any dent into exports. Instead, the value of exports registered a healthy increase of 35 per cent in term of value and 26 per cent in term of quantity during July-October this year over the same period last year. According to the figures compiled by the Federal Bureau of Statistics $ 66 million worth of seafood was exported in July-October this year compared to $ 48.6 million in the comparative months last year. Similarly, the quantity of seafood exports during July-October this year totaled 33,476 tons compared to 26,537 tons the same period last year.

The improved performance of seafood exports clearly indicates that the otherwise catastrophe has not adversely affected the seafood exports highlighting the confidence of the importers in the major markets of the US, EU and Japan. Instead the improved performance shows that despite a sharp decrease in the retail demand locally resulting in reduced prices to the inconvenience of the fishermen the value and quantity of seafood exports has increased during the first four months of the current fiscal.

What is even more interesting is the fact that exactly two-third of the seafood exports in term of quantity and almost the same percentage in term of value were exported during September and October right after the Tasman Spirit started spilling the oil on the 14th of August. In September, 10,799 tons of seafood worth $ 21 million was exported while in October 11,204 tons was exported, the value of which was $ 21.5 million. A total of 22.003 tons of seafood was exported in September and October the combined value of which totaled $ 42.52 million.

Tariq Ikram, a major seafood exporter with a processing factory at the Karachi Fish Harbour, expressed satisfaction at the good performance of the seafood exports in circumstances that has been uncertain in the aftermath of Tasman Spirit. He said that the seafood exporters have been able to successfully meet the Christmas deadline by shipping seafood to the three major markets for the increased demand during the Christmas season. "We were able to ship the container loads of seafood by end last month to help meet the customary increase in demand during the Christmas season and that is reflected in the value and quantity of exports during October."

Asked if the availability of seafood at the auctions of Karachi Fish Harbour at lower prices, which accord to one estimate has fallen by a good 40 per cent due to lack of interest on the part of consumers in the local market, has helped the exporters better their profitability he said that it has not been so because the international market is too slow. "In addition, it is hard for us to ask better prices for our products because of the problems associated with quality assurance system, lack of credibility and most of all a weak country image. Furthermore, bad business practices on part of individual processors are also tarnishing our image thus depriving us of the prices that we otherwise deserve in the international markets for our products."

He also blamed the low international prices as one of the other causes denying the exporters the chance to benefit from substantial decline in the prices of seafood at the auction halls of the Karachi Fish Harbour. Though the average price of seafood exports from Pakistan show an almost 15 cents, or about Rs 6.70, per kilogram increase during July-October this year over the comparative period last year, Tariq said that the his counterparts in such competitors like India and Japan are able to sell their products at much better prices in the same markets. "Pakistan is the 20th top producer of seafood in the world but its share in the global exports is negligible.

"In addition, seafood processing as you know is a water and power intensive activity and the high rates of the later is pushing our production costs to levels whereby it is not possible for the seafood exporters to best benefit from the reduced prices of the seafood in the local market, such as the situation is today. So, despite lower prices of the basic raw material, the seafood, our profitability margins remains almost unchanged."

Asked if the export performance of $ 66 million during the first four months of the current fiscal would help push the earnings from the seafood cross the record $ 182 million previously, he said that "I don't expect that would happen though I am positive that seafood exports this fiscal would far exceed the $ 134 million figure of the previous year."