According to statistics from the Ministry of Fisheries, Vietnam will have earned US$190 million from seafood exports in April - an 8.9 per cent increase over the same trading period last year - bringing this year's overall turnover figure to US$684.4 million.
The Ministry said that fish accounted for nearly 50 per cent, or 68,800 tonnes, of exports in April, while shrimp and cuttlefish remained the second and third largest export categories respectively, each accounting for 34,900 and 14,400 tonnes.
Japan remained the largest export destination for Vietnamese seafood, raking in US$146 million during the first quarter, while the US and EU each had turnover of US$121.5 million and US$69.4 million and ranked second and third respectively.
But despite the US remaining a major export destination, exports to the region have fallen by 14.4 per cent, compared to the previous year - a substantial decline which Nguyen Viet Thang, Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Fisheries, said was the result of a change in complex US customs regulations.
In order to gain entry into the US market, all Vietnamese exporters are required to pay bonds to US insurance companies, which then guarantee that anti-dumping duties are paid to the US Customs Service.
As the Vietnamese seafood processing industry is still relatively fragmented (currently there are around 330 seafood processing facilities in Vietnam), the country's small and medium shrimp exporters cannot afford to stump up the hefty bond payment - particularly as each payment incurs a three-year severance period.
The Ministry has suggested that in order to offset the inevitable loss of trade with the US, Vietnam's seafood industry must bolster sales of other seafood products, for instance, fresh shrimp, dried squid, cuttlefish, tuna and other processed products and also further trade relationships with the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and also South America.
In an attempt to up shrimp exports to the EU (currently the region remains a relatively small export market for Vietnam, accounting for just 3.6 per cent of sales in 2003), the Vietnamese Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) has arranged for Vietnamese companies to participate in major European exhibitions such as the European Seafood Exposition (ESE) in Brussels and SIAL in Paris.
Furthermore, VASEP has been assisting exporters in developing markets in several countries, including the UK, Netherlands and Italy, and is currently looking at the possibility of setting up representative marketing hubs in a number of additional overseas markets.
According to FAO statistics, Vietnamese seafood exports notched up a record US$2.2 billion in 2003 and increased by around 21 per cent, compared to the previous year.
This year, however, the Vietnamese authorities have outlined their ambitions to reach the US$2.6 billion figure - an 8.7 per cent increase on 2004.