Vietnamese crab farmers struggle to find buyers after China goes cold

By Phuc Hung   September 20, 2016 | 10:56 pm PT
Chinese traders seem to have lost their taste for local crab, forcing prices down by 50 percent.

Chinese crab traders normally descend on Vietnam's southernmost province of Ca Mau in the run up to the Mid-Autumn Festival, but this year many have stayed away, leaving many households in heavy debt.

Pham Thi Cuong, a local trader, said: “In previous years, we were unable to collect enough crabs to meet the Chinese demand, but this year, we don't have anyone to sell our catches too.”

The provincial agriculture department said that Ca Mau has one of the largest crab farming areas in the Mekong Delta region, and some people have profited strongly from the crustaceans.

Statistics showed that each year tens of thousand tons of Ca Mau’s crabs reach foreign markets, and China is the main recipient.

This year, China has reduced its volume of crab imports, sending the price down by 50 percent from three months ago to VND110,000-180,000 ($5-8) per kilo.

Vo Ngoc Hung, a dealer in Nam Can District, said that Chinese traders used to accept high prices to buy large quantities of crabs from local traders, but this year there's hardly been any sign of them in town.

To maintain business relationships, many traders have accepted small export orders from China yet at very low prices. “I used to send three tons of crabs to China each day, but now that figure has collapsed to just under one ton,” a trader said.

While crab traders are struggling to find substitute buyers, thousands of local farmers are moaning about the losses they have made.

Nguyen Thi Tien from Cai Nuoc District said that after estimating all costs for baby crabs and crab feed, her family will only make a profit of VND1 million ($44) from this crop.

Many households have not been as lucky as Tien and fallen into debt after spending huge amounts of money to expand their farms.

This isn’t the first time Chinese traders have offered high prices for Vietnamese products and then stopped purchasing unexpectedly. They have played this trick with many other products like rice, cassava, dragon fruit and pork.

Chinese traders recently turned their backs on catfish produced in Mekong Delta provinces after specifically asking local farmers to raise catfish following Chinese standards.

According to economic experts, the fact that Chinese traders are saying no to Vietnamese products could be viewed as a good sign because it will force local farmers and enterprises to improve the quality of their products so they can reach other export markets.

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