China issues smuggling crackdown as large pangasius importer implicated

News   02/01/2018 - Administrator

China’s highest customs authority has spearheaded a nationwide operation against seafood smuggling this week resulting in eight smuggling rings involving numerous companies being "smashed". 

Among the casualties appears to be one of China’s largest pangasius importers who will face criminal charges after it was implicated in smuggling 41,000 metric tons of pangasius products worth CNY 690 million ($106m) into China from Vietnam.

According to industry sources not based in the country it’s possible the crackdown has resulted in smuggling routes into China from Vietnam being closed, which, in the run up to Chinese New Year, could prove disastrous for Chinese seafood importers which haven’t already taken delivery of product.

Undercurrent News was not able to verify with sources in Vietnam and China whether smuggling routes have been closed or not.

Officials from the General Administration of Customs meet to discuss operation "4.12"

On Thursday, China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC) revealed operation “4.12”, a co-ordinated strike involving over 500 members of local police, customs, border defense and maritime police against seafood smuggling operations across the country.

According to a statement issued by the GAC, raids were carried out in eleven cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as seafood hubs Qingdao, Zhanjiang and Haikou. In all, officials inspected 37,000t of suspected smuggled seafood, initially valued at an estimated CNY 197m, according to the GAC.

On Wednesday reporters from state broadcaster CCTV accompanied police and customs officials in an early morning raid at a shrimp processor in Hebei province. Officials were shown inspecting frozen shrimp including Argentine red shrimp and vannamei shrimp. The boss of the firm was then shown being apprehended in his underwear.

According to reports, the company is suspected of smuggling CNY 300m worth of seafood into China.

At the China Fisheries & Seafood Expo held in Qingdao in November, Cui He, president of the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance told an audience that approximately 1.6m metric tons of seafood is smuggled into China annually. Vietnam is by far the biggest entry point, with the porous border with China a well-established route for smugglers importing a panoply of goods besides seafood, including exotic animals and hard drugs. 

In the past couple of weeks, the GAC has made three separate announcements relating to smuggling cases, including 150 kilograms of elephant tusks, which suggests the recent crackdown could have more bite and scope.

Nanjing customs officials and police inspect suspected smuggled seafood

Chinese media may also have helped with the operation, with seafood industry website Foodspath China claiming to have been in contact with customs officials after it published a story relating to smuggled toothfish in November. On Thursday the publication published photos of customs officials from local departments in Nanjing, Kunming, Beijing, Haikou and others, inspecting trucks and warehouses full of seafood products, including boxes clearly containing shrimp. In another photo boxes are labelled with the name of Vietnamese shrimp exporter Anh Khoa Seafood.

Meanwhile, Xinhua News reports that Fujian-based Fujian Anxin Industrial will face criminal prosecution after being implicated in smuggling 41,000t of pangasius products into China worth CNY 640m.

According to Xinhua, Fuzhou customs discovered and dismantled the smuggling ring involving 38 individuals, including three corrupt border officials. The report states that in 2014, Fujian Anxin established a subsidiary company in Vietnam which then sent seafood products including pangasius, tuna and shrimp into China.

Fujian Anxin’s website states that the firm exports industrial products and imports seafood. Its product list includes pangasius and shrimp.  

In early 2017, Undercurrent reported a billion-dollar shrimp smuggling trade into China through Vietnam could jeopardize the entire industry. In the event of a closure to smuggling routes, the industry would be “thrown into chaos”, an industry insider said.

Meanwhile, in 2016 around 90% of live rock lobster from Australia was shipped to China via Vietnam, making up the largest share of a $500m seafood grey trade between Australia and China alone