QUITO, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- Demand for premium Ecuadorian shrimp has surged as China prepares to celebrate the New Year starting Tuesday with sumptuous family feasts.
Ecuador's shrimp exports jumped 35 percent between November and December, driven by increased demand from China, the president of the National Aquaculture Chamber (CNA), Jose Antonio Camposano, told Xinhua.
"China has become a net shrimp importer," said Camposano, adding that "its appetite for shrimp has made Ecuadorian companies pay a lot of attention to the Chinese market."
China does not only represents a vast consumer market of some 1.4 billion people, it also has "a strong tradition of consuming shrimp," he noted.
And while China has historically been a major producer of shrimp, its output today is not enough to satisfy domestic demand.
That combination is music to the ears of Ecuadorian producers, as shrimp is the country's leading non-oil export.
"Without a doubt, Ecuador's shrimp industry has grown thanks in large part to the opening-up of the Asian market, particularly the Chinese market," said Camposano.
According to the 2019 growth forecasts, demand for shrimp will continue to rise as China's economy expands along with the purchasing power of Chinese consumers.
Ecuador, a proponent of antibiotic-free production, is home to 3,800 shrimp farms and 20 processing plants, 62 percent of which do business with China.
"Some of them even ship 90 percent of their production to China," Camposano said.
According to the CNA, Ecuador is the world's second-leading exporter of shrimp, after Thailand, shipping a total of 1.12 billion pounds to international markets in 2018.
Shrimp exports to China "have grown significantly," Camposano said, to the point where the seafood has become Ecuador's leading export product to the Asian nation.
In fact, the nation's shrimp exports to China have skyrocketed, going from 105 million U.S. dollars in 2017 to 615 million U.S. dollars in 2018, a more than 500 percent increase.
Vannamei shrimp, better known as Pacific white shrimp or king prawn, is the variety Ecuador ships to China.
Demand for Ecuadorian shrimp customarily spikes at the end of the year due to the Chinese holiday because Ecuadorian shrimp is "among the best given its taste and quality, and the Chinese know it," said Napoleon Prado, marketing manager at Ecuadorian processing plant Procesadora Del Rio S.A. (Proriosa.)
The family-owned operation, opened in 1982, produces a million pounds of white shrimp a month, and employs some 200 people. It used to ship up to 70 percent of its output to the United States four years ago, but "we have replaced it with China," said Prado.
"Without the Chinese, we wouldn't know where to turn, or we would have to stop making so much shrimp," Prado said.
Entering the Chinese market has been a boon for the company and a "spectacular experience" that has added to Proriosa's client roster.
China's decision to lower tariffs on Ecuadorian shrimp imports from 5 to 2 percent since December 2017 aided business and encouraged the company to seek new Chinese import partners.
"I have no doubt China is going to continue to grow. It is going to continue to buy and continue to expand in purchasing power," Prado said. "I think it is quite beneficial for Ecuadorian companies that there is another global giant that increasingly needs more goods. Ecuador is a small country but ... one of the most productive countries in the world."