Vietnamese catfish exporters gear up for US inspections

Vietnam catfish processors must prepare for the inspection programme of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in order to boost exports into this market.

“If Vietnamese producers can meet USDA’s requirement, a huge market in the US awaits them,” according to a recent article on seafoodsource.com.

All catfish will be subject to the scrutiny of the USDA from September 1, including pangasius. USDA inspectors will check on all stages of the production chain in Vietnam.

Catfish regulation will shift from the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) to the USDA from the beginning of September, according to a law passed in 2014. The rules, pushed by the US catfish industry, will come into full force on September 1 after an 18-month transition period.

Regulations under the USDA are considered more stringent, challenging Vietnam’s struggling pangasius industry, which supplies about 90 percent of the pangasius sold in the US.

The sales of pangasius to the US would soar if Vietnamese exporters would use the American term for them - “catfish”, according to the story. In 2002, a law was passed restricting the use of the word to American varieties. However, pangasius is now officially recognised by US authorities as being a catfish species, whether they produced domestically or imported, according to the story.

One month ago, the National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department sent a request to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service asking for an equivalency determination on siluriformes fish of Vietnam, according to the Vietnam Seafood Exporters and Producers (Vasep).

From March 1, 2016 when the transition period started, 62 Vietnamese processors were found eligible for exporting siluriformers to the US. Other exporters will have to await the equivalency determination, expected some time this summer.

Duong Ngoc Minh, chairman of the Hung Vuong Corporation, said at the company’s annual shareholders meeting last week that exports of pangasius fish to the US would face many difficulties in 2018 due to the impacts of the USDA’s increased inspection.

He added the tra fish industry of Vietnam was facing a severe shortage of raw materials, which would last to February 2018 at least, due to unfavourable weather.

In 2016, tra fish exports totalled US$1.7 billion with total raw material processed for exports reaching 1.5 million tones. This year, raw materials for export were estimated at 800,000 tonnes only, Minh said.

As of the end of March, China surpassed the US to become the biggest tra fish importer from Vietnam.

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