Agreement helps seafood company tell its story in the Asia‑Pacific region

As an exporter of wild‑caught seafood from Atlantic Canada, the Asia‑Pacific region is an important market for Ocean Choice International Inc. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans‑Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has brought new demand as well as greater awareness of the St. John’s, NL, company in CPTPP countries.

“The CPTPP is a door‑opener for us,” says Dale Oldford, vice‑president of product management at Ocean Choice. “We are really able to go in and have conversations about what types of seafood we have available, and to tell our story.”

The family‑owned company has sales offices in North America, Europe and Asia, and each year sells more than 100 million pounds of products in more than 30 countries. It exports some 15 species of fish, especially flatfish, which is a core item and an ever‑bigger seller in Asia‑Pacific, Oldford says. It has also had some success with scallops and snow crab in the region.

The company is increasingly active in the Vietnam market, which has eliminated or significantly reduced tariffs for Canadian fish and seafood products under the CPTPP, and it has significant sales in Japan, where the CPTPP “has certainly helped out,” he says.

“The biggest benefit of the agreement for a company like Ocean Choice—while it’s hard to put sales numbers on it—is that it’s opened up many more discussions about our products,” Oldford comments. “Customers are more aware about Canada and especially Canadian seafood.”

Oldford says the CPTPP’s tariff reductions have helped the company in terms of pricing and volumes.

“Duties and tariffs are no longer—or at least not as much—a negative part of the conversation,” he explains. “By reducing or removing tariffs, Canadian seafood is certainly much more on a level playing field. Or at least a competitive playing field.”

The high standard associated with Canada has always meant the company can command a premium for its products, Oldford says. “It’s just that when you add an extra tariff on top, it pushes you out of the market completely,” he says. “The CPTPP has really started to make us competitive in some of these markets. We’re not 100% there yet, but we’re certainly a lot closer. And it allows these conversations to go at least three or four steps further.”

As an industrial producer, the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) is helping the company overcome challenges when it comes to getting its products to consumers in new countries.

“We try to find partners who are good distributors and are also good at doing the packing or reprocessing in these markets,” Oldford says, and that is not always easy.

The COVID‑19 pandemic travel disruptions have curtailed the company’s plans to build relationships throughout Southeast Asia, he says. “We know we have business there and there’s demand there, especially on the retail side. It’s just that we haven’t been able to get to the front end of finding the right partner or distributor or processor in these markets to be able to help us.”

Ocean Choice notes that the TCS has been a big help on the ground. “We’ve had so much success with the TCS, just in getting general information about a country or market and the key players we should be talking to,” Oldford says. “That’s always our first step, to reach out to trade commissioners.” The company encourages its sales people to use the TCS to make contacts and find key parties. “Even if the relationship never goes anywhere, the information is valuable for us.”

Ocean Choice is confident that once it does find one or two key partners in the region with the help of the TCS, the company will be able to develop a market for its products there.

Buoyed by the CPTPP, the company’s future plans include focusing on dynamic countries in the Asia‑Pacific region such as Vietnam that have “fairly significant population bases and all the right demographic profiles,” Oldford says. Ocean Choice expects to start developing or further exploring those markets once travel is possible, he says, hopefully in 2021.

“It’s been baby steps; we know it takes a while,” Oldford adds, indeed the company has found that it requires five to seven years to become relatively established in a new place. “We really only started maybe a year, a year and a half ago in these markets, coinciding with the agreement. We’re still at the early stages, but we have no doubt we will find some success there, regardless of this COVID‑19 hiccup.”

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