Will US-China Trade War Boost Thai Tuna Business?

The escalating trade war between the United States and China has the potential to push seafood processors from both countries, in the direction of Thailand. This is according to Chanintr Chalisarapong, President of the Thai Tuna Industry Association (TTIA), the umbrella group of major tuna processors in the Asian nation.

According to him, tuna canning and other seafood processing companies could be driven to move their operations to Thailand, which is already the number one canned tuna production nation globally. This is if the current trade and import tariff war between two of the leading economies in the world – the US and China – “drags on for a long period of time”.

The TTIA President believes that relocations could happen in order to export through Bangkok at a lower tariff level. The US market is notably reliant on Chinese tuna – especially pre-cooked tuna loins – which go a long way to feed America’s domestic canning industry. In recent years imports of canned bonito tuna have risen in the US market, with the leading suppliers being Chinese firms.

If canners from the two feuding nations did make moves to relocate operations to Thailand, it would provide an additional boost to Thailand’s export economy, Chalisarapong says.

Last year Thailand’s seafood export industry was valued at around USD 5.5 billion. Overall, processors in the nation shipped just above 480,000 tons of canned tuna across all export markets, with the US being the biggest importer of the product.

In the shorter term it has also been stated by the TTIA that the country’s imports of raw material tuna are expected to increase by five percent to between 750,000 and 800,000 tons this year, as the trade war between the US and China results in “greater Chinese tuna dumping in Thailand”. The association President added that China is increasingly exporting more raw material tuna to be processed for canned products, to a larger number of countries, including Thailand.

Despite the positive expectations, Thai canners may still need to be alert of the fact that US President Trump has also called out their home country as one the US could potentially raise trade tariffs with. This is because America currently has a notable trade deficit with the Asian nation, one that Trump and his administration aim to reduce.