Collapse in Myanmar seafood exports puts jobs at risk

  • Business
  • Monday, 01 Jun 2020

YANGON: About one million people may lose their jobs in Myanmar’s fisheries industry, with almost all exports ceasing since February as the spread of Covid-19 prompted major buyers, led by China and the United States, to halt orders.

Processing plants wouldn’t have been able to deliver anyway, as factory closures were part of the government’s measures to stall the pandemic.

Before the outbreak, the Myanmar Fisheries Federation forecast record exports of US$1bil this year, up about 40% from 2019.

That’s been slashed to US$350mil.

The fisheries sector employs about 3.5 million people in Myanmar, roughly 6% of the South-East Asian nation’s workforce. In some coastal regions, one in three workers earns a living from seafood and marine products, according to a World Bank report in June 2019.

“It is a time of zero exports without any new orders from buyer countries, ” Hnin Oo, senior vice-president of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, said in a telephone interview Friday.

Myanmar fishery exports largely depend on China, the US, Japan and European countries, he said.

Hnin Oo said aquaculture businesses and the animal-feed industry are among the most-vulnerable in the Covid-19 crisis.

Without exports, the tap on cash flow has been turned off.

Many companies, most of them small, face high “interest burdens” because they lack collateral required by commercial banks, so they turn to black-market lenders for funding.

Some businesses have already folded.

“It’s almost impossible to sell locally because normal people can’t afford the marine products that are processed and tailored for exports, ” he said.

A sizeable portion of products, including shrimp, prawn, crab and both fresh and ocean fish, involve cold-storage.

Even domestic sellers are at risk. Lockdowns, social-distancing rules and the closures of restaurants and markets – as well as tumbling incomes – have crimped consumption.

Sales at the Sanpya Fish Market, the nation’s biggest wholesale outlet for marine and seafood products, have plunged by almost half since the coronavirus outbreak.Hnin Oo urged the government to ease land-use policies, increase stimulus spending and provide long-term discounted loans to aquaculture businesses.

In some coastal regions, as much as 56% of revenue for regional governments comes from the fisheries sector, according to the World Bank.

“We expect the authorities to invest wisely in this sector, otherwise it will not survive, ” he said. — Bloomberg

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