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Look out, here comes 2017

Get ready for a year of uncertainty like no other.

It's near the end of the year, and that means it's time for us to reach out to the best minds in seafood and ask them to take a look back at a hectic year, and look forward into one of the most uncertain any of us have faced in a long, long time.

Fortunately, we have experts to help at least give us food for thought, and if you browse through our 2016 Outlook series, you'll find some of the predictions were spot on.

As we roll out 2017 Outlooks, I'll join in with a few predictions as well, in no particular order:

Trade takes a hit. It's impossible next year will be 'business as usual' in overseas trade. Donald Trump has made it clear he will at the very least spit a lot of vitriol at US trading partners, most notably China.

While an all-out trade war is unlikely -- even the most prostrate of Trump acolytes will raise questions -- those sectors already facing tariffs or duties such as shrimp and pangasius are likely to feel more pressure. Naturally that will have a major knock-on effect onto other markets.

Seafood markets will look inward. Increasingly, the world’s biggest seafood suppliers -- China and the US in particular -- are seeing the fortune they were seeking overseas may in fact be buried right beneath their own feet.

Any political restrictions on trade will only accelerate that. And yeah, Russia may have helped Trump get elected, but that doesn't mean it'll open up its doors. Putin's plan to revitalize the domestic seafood industry has, in it's own way, gone according to plan.

'Made in' will be the new eco-label. It's no doubt we are in a period of rising nationalism, which is concerning. A little patriotism is not always a bad thing, though, particularly if it can mean investment, jobs and quality improvement.

Expect to see more companies put money into equipment and automation that allows them to process more product at home, and gives people the nice feeling that they're buying from their neighbors.

Eco-label backlash. The dogpile onto the MSC over the past two weeks shows a lot more people are disillusioned with eco-labels than many believed, both on the commercial and environmental sides. Keep an eye out for the words "equivalent" and "progressing" -- code words for "they're working on it."

They will become standard language in all purchasing programs, and give buyers a huge freedom in purchasing they didn't have when committing only to specific programs. Good, bad? You decide.

Prices hit a ceiling. Can it be? It hasn't happened yet, but talk to some of the people on the front lines -- retail-facing processors or retail buyers themselves -- and they'll tell you that pressure is building, particularly in salmon. While it looks like retailers will indeed budge, it's unlikely consumers will be overly pliant -- they're a fickle bunch.

New product renaissance. The only sure-fire way to combat consumer resistance -- because it's not just salmon showing inflation -- is to innovate. The industry is getting increasingly creative; a few years back a smaller pack size counted as creativity. Expect to see some interesting products hit the markets that can open new doors.

Consolidation goes 'mini.' There are still some mega-deals to be had out there, sure. But it's easy to underestimate the sheer number of mid-sized companies with aging owners and disinterested kids. This goes for nearly every step of the value chain.

Many of the biggest deals of the past few years -- think Bumble Bee-Thai Union or Marine Harvest-AquaChile -- fell through, and a look at the most acquisitive companies shows they are seeing the most opportunities with smart, targeted bolt-ons.

Labor scrutiny. I'll be tackling this in a column soon, but suffice it to say for now that labor will be one of the most critical issues facing the industry next year.

Transparency marches on. Clarity and integrity in mission and supply chain will continue to be paramount. Traceability will continue to be more and more important, just as eco-labels' importance fade. Consumers will continue to demand accountability for business practices.

Our team is committed to doing our part on the transparency front to help all our readers do their jobs better, and as always -- we expect them to hold us fully accountable as well. After all, good journalism more important than ever.

Whatever 2017 brings, it's going to be another exciting year in seafood.

Feedback? Contact: drew.cherry@intrafish.com

Follow me on Twitter: @drewcherry

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