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Online market fast-tracks seafood to China

Eddy Lok – China Daily

June 17, 2016

Gfresh, one of the world’s largest online trade platforms, has signed an agreement with an inspection company to fast track seafood exports to China.

The agreement with Certification and Inspection Group Canada (CCIC) was signed on June 10 at the 2016 BC Seafood Expo Trade Show in Courtenay, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Gfresh’s CEO and co-founder, Anthony Wan, said the agreement would give Canadian exporters using the online platform the “quickest and easiest trade route into China yet’’.

The agreement means suppliers on Gfresh will be given assurances that their products are passable by customs before leaving their Canadian departure port. It also gives Chinese trade partners the quickest and most direct trade route possible by reducing the time it takes to get seafood from suppliers into China’s booming market.

Gfresh was launched in 2014 to connect Canadian sellers of live seafood directly to more than 2,500 wholesale Asian buyers, mostly in China, which has surpassed the US and the European Union as the

world’s largest seafood market. Last year, Gfresh recorded $100 million in trade, Wan said on the second day of the 11-day BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival in Comox, on Vancouver Island. The festival started on June 9 and ends on June 19. “When we first thought about the venture, we wondered why it was that there was no online platform for buying and selling live seafood. It is ridiculous you can move almost any other type of commodity between countries and it just arrives but you can’t do that with live seafood,” he said. CCIC is headquartered in Vancouver and has offices in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, and it specializes in providing inspection and certification services to customers.

Wan said CCIC Canada will work with Gfresh to develop pre-shipment inspection for seafood exports, which would expedite and lower customs inspection charges in China.

He said that now China’s customs agents detain and inspect 25 to 50 per cent of fresh seafood entering China, which can take up to five days and cause financial loss and reduce the freshness and quality of the product when released.

China imported about $8.4 billion worth of fish and seafood from around the world over the last few years, and an increasing amount comes from Canada, the sixth-largest supplier of seafood to China, including live oysters, prawns, lobsters and both fresh and smoked salmon and other species, according to Statistics Canada.

China is British Columbia’s second most important seafood market after the US, which has historically been the sector’s primary export market. In 2014, BC exported $981 million in seafood products to 74 markets, many in Asia, an increase of 10 percent from 2013.

According to Statistics Canada, China is showing an increasing appetite for farm-raised salmon, with exports from BC now more than doubling over the previous high in 2012.

BC set a record for exports of farm-raised salmon last year, and demand for salmon raised in BC has never been higher, according to Jeremy Dunn, executive director of BC Salmon Farmers Association. “If we had more fish to sell, I believe that marketers would be selling more to China because of the improving Chinese economy,” Dunn said.

BC also is on track to increase exports this year with its shellfish farming industry, which produces scallops, oysters, mussels, geoduck, Manila and other clams, currently a $37 million industry, according to Lara Greasley of Comox Valley Economic Development and Tourism.

BC is the leading oyster-producing province. It produces 87 per cent of clams cultured in Canada, and fish farmers using hatcheries, marine farms and land-based aquaculture systems produce Atlantic salmon, Chinook and Coho salmon, sable fish, trout, steelhead and sturgeon.

The online seafood marketplace designed specifically for cross-border business-to-business seafood sales has caught on with buyers and sellers of lobsters, Dungeness crab and abalone, according to Wan, who said the company is working to expand listings of other species.

“With seafood, the seller wants to see the payment upfront, but the buyer wants to see the product first. Gpay (a service facilitating payments from its customers’ bank accounts to internet merchants) effectively eliminates the risk for both parties,” Wan said.

He said Gfresh is an independent third party to a transaction, and when the buyer and seller come together, they agree on an acceptable mortality threshold for their seafood of between five and 25 percent.

“Our goal is to be the dominant marketplace for live seafood globally. It is all about growth for us,” Wan said, adding that Gfresh has ground inspectors around when boxes of live seafood are opened on delivery.

He said that if a delivery does not arrive on time, Gfresh is penalised. “The penalty keeps us honest and efficient, we are there to receive it as soon as the cargo lands,” Wan said.

Gfresh has limited its operations to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, where it has set up tracking systems that guarantee product delivery within seven hours of its arrival. With a staff of more than 150, Gfresh plans to expand to 20 Chinese cities and focus on increasing sales from Canada.

Wan and Gang were among investors, businessmen and officials and other invited guests to the BC Shellfish Festival, marked by non-stop food tours, tastings, demonstrations and competitions.

At the opening of the festival, BC’s agriculture minister, Norm Letnick, told China Daily he was pleased with the great amount of interest shown by Chinese for Canadian products when he was in China. He said his ministry has responded by taking steps to improve trade between the two countries.

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