There was a fastidious importer in Asia that has started to "open up" to receive Vietnamese pangasius. 2018 marked the growth of Pangasius exports to Japan with an increase of 37.6% in total pangasius export value compared to 2017. Continued the upward trend, in the first 3 months of 2019, pangasius exports to Japan reached US$8.58 million, up 60.37% over the same period in 2018. This value was higher than the results to some potential markets such as UAE, Egypt, Germany or Belgium.
This was a remarkable result in the big market of Vietnamese seafood as Japanese consumers previously were not "willing" to consume aquaculture products, they prefer to import products from the sea. Japan is one of the biggest importers with high prices and being very particular. Vietnamese pangasius is gradually discovering the "secrets" of this market's taste.
In 2011, the export value of pangasius to Japan was only US$2.56 million, accounting for 0.14% of Vietnam export value of pangasius. This was a very modest number in the proportion of Vietnam's pangasius exports. In the period of 2017-2018, the export value of Vietnamese pangasius to Japan was 9 times and 12 times higher than in 2011 respectively. This shows that pangasius enterprises still persisted to conquer the fastidious market and realized great potentials in this market.
Back in 2008 when the Vietnam - Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (VJEPA) was signed on December 25 and came into effect on October 1, 2009. This was the first bilateral FTA of Vietnam, in which both Vietnam and Japan offered more incentives to each other than the ASEAN - Japan FTA. Regarding the general commitment, within 10 years since the Agreement came into effect, Vietnam committed to liberalize about 87.66% of trade turnover and Japan committed to liberalization with 94.53% of trade turnover. At that time, Vietnam - Japan pangasius trade was still not outstanding.
However, from April 2019, according to the EPA tariffs of Japan Customs, fresh/chilled pangasius catfish (including pangasius) - HS code 030432 imported from Thailand, Mexico, Chile and Philippines were exempted from import tax. These products from ASEAN and CPTPP (TPP 11) were applied 3.5% and 0% tax rate respectively. Vietnamese frozen fillet pangasius products (HS 030462) exported to Japan was completely exempted from import tax.
Thanks to The ASEAN – Japan Free Trade Agreement and Vietnam - Japan Free Trade Agreement, some Vietnamese seafood products exported to Japan have been removed from the tariff barrier. With CPTPP, many seafood products that have not yet been committed to abolishing taxes in these two FTAs will also enjoy 0% tax when exported to Japan. Some seafood products will enjoy the tax rate of 0% as soon as the agreement comes into effect, including pangasius products that are being imposed tax of 3.5-10.5%. Thus, with advantages from 3 FTAs with Japan, Vietnam Pangasius enterprises have more opportunities to further increase pangasius exports to Japan market.
Japanese are afraid of the strong smell of freshwater fish products. In addition, the comparation between the quality of freshwater fish/ farmed fish or marine species in the past made Japanese people rarely import freshwater fish products. However, there are many Vietnamese pangasius enterprises that have started to "get acquainted" and "understand" about the seafood consumption tastes of Japanese.
Eel is a premium product in Japan with prices up to more than US$24/pc. However, Japanese eels are facing the risk of depletion due to overfishing. Therefore, Japanese enterprises have imported Vietnamese pangasius to process into a dish with the same flavor as Japanese eel with a price of one third. In 2017, pangasius had a good effect on Japanese consumers thanks to this dish.
By the statistics of optimistic growth of Pangasius exports to Japan market, VASEP said that there was great potential for Vietnamese pangasius enterprises to conquer this market. Currently, Japan has officially entered the top 10 largest pangasius importers of Vietnam in the first 3 months of 2019.