Australia’s rock lobsters — a long-prized delicacy among Chinese consumers — might be finding their way onto mainland menus through a backdoor that circumvents a worsening diplomatic and trading dispute between the two nations.
Since direct shipments to China virtually ground to a halt in November last year, Hong Kong has become the world’s largest importer of Australian lobsters, with monthly trade growing more than 2,000 percent from October last year to April.
While lower prices will have spurred some increased demand from Hong Kong consumers, experts say the dramatic spike is more likely due to a gray trade as the tasty crustaceans are sent across the border to the mainland.
“It’s highly unlikely that locked-down Hong Kong citizens are suddenly buying, cooking and eating 20 times more lobster in their homes over the last six months,” said Deborah Elms, the Singapore-based executive director of the Asian Trade Centre. “Lobster is a high-value product. As with any high-value product, the incentives to skirt the rules are also high.”
Customs clearance delays and increased inspections for lobsters, which are typically flown in on ice to be consumed within 72 hours or put into holding tanks, saw plane loads of exports perishing on the airport tarmac late last year. Australian officials, who investigated complaints of heavy metal traces in two shipments and reported back to Chinese authorities in December, are still awaiting a response.
Lobsters are the latest in a string of Australian exports to be caught up in the widening spat between Canberra and Beijing, after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government led calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
China accounted for 93 percent of Australian lobster exports of A$544 million (US$413 million) in 2019-2020, according to official government statistics compiled by the Canberra-based Fisheries Research and Development Corp (FRDC).
Lobster, which translates to dragon shrimp in Chinese, is viewed as a symbol of prosperity due to its auspicious name and vibrant red hue. Often steamed and presented with its shell intact at celebratory banquets, Australian rock lobsters are famous for their fine yet firm texture, salty tang and sweet aftertaste, retailing at a price two to three times that of Maine lobsters before China’s unofficial ban.
The trade has slumped by 99 percent in the first four months of this year compared with a year earlier.
Meanwhile, the value of Australian lobster exports to Hong Kong in April was A$25 million — the highest monthly total since February 2013, FRDC data showed. The total for the first four months of the year was A$78.1 million, more than triple the value for the whole of last year.
It is unlikely they have all stayed within the territory.
China’s fish and crustaceans imports from Hong Kong jumped from US$500,247 in September last year to US$10.6 million in April, Chinese customs data showed.
On Baidu’s wholesaling platform, multiple suppliers continue to offer Australian lobsters. JD.com (京東), one of China’s leading e-commerce sites, currently displays live Australian lobsters selling at about 1,500 yuan (US$232) each, some with same-day delivery for Guangdong.
Cash-strapped developer China Evergrande Group (恆大集團) has begun repaying investors in its wealth management products with real estate, said Hengda Real Estate Group Co Ltd (恆大地產), its main unit. Evergrande, with more than US$300 billion in liabilities, is in the throes of a liquidity crisis that has left it racing to raise funds to pay its many lenders and suppliers. It has a bond interest payment of US$83.5 million due on Thursday. The company said on WeChat on Saturday that investors interested in redeeming wealth management products for physical assets should contact their investment consultants or visit local offices. Financial news outlet Caixin on
‘CORE VALUES’: The contract chipmaker did not specify why the employees were dismissed, but media reports said they had leaked information about customer orders Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) has fired seven of its employees for violating the company’s “core values,” the world’s largest contract chipmaker said yesterday. While the company did not disclose exactly why it fired the seven employees, local media reports earlier in the day said that the employees had leaked confidential information about customer orders. In a statement, the company said that it fired the seven at once, adding that it released an internal notice last week to inform the entire company of the move ahead of the four-day Mid-Autumn Festival holilday, which ended on Tuesday. TSMC said it fired the seven
Alphabet Inc’s Google on Tuesday announced plans to buy a New York office building for US$2.1 billion, confirming its push into the US’ largest city despite the COVID-19 teleworking trend. This is the largest real-estate purchase in the US for an office building since the beginning of the global spread of COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal quoted Real Capital Analytics as saying. Google already rents the premises in Manhattan, which are located on the site of a former railroad terminal in the Hudson Square neighborhood. The Silicon Valley giant envisions a campus with a total surface area of 160,000m2 by mid-2023
MILD ADJUSTMENT: Two previous efforts failed to curtail mortgage financing, although the new measures should not affect property prices, the central bank governor said The central bank yesterday tightened credit controls for second-home mortgages in specific areas and purchases of plots of land, especially in industrial parks. However, the nation’s top monetary policymaker kept its policy rate at a record-low 1.125 percent for the sixth consecutive quarter, despite revising up its GDP growth forecast for this year from 5.08 percent to 5.75 percent. “Board members factored in economic uncertainty at home and around the world,” central bank Governor Yang Chin-long (楊金龍) said, adding that growing inflationary pressure was a temporary phenomenon induced by bad weather and a low base effect for oil prices. International fuel price increases