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Please take a moment to locate your nearest exit

What do you do when your product becomes a bargaining chip in a world of increasing tensions?

It was with some amusement that I found myself writing about the plummeting seafood prices in North Korea.

I mean, when we’re all dead or hiding in concrete bunkers in the chill of a nuclear holocaust, will anyone really care what the price of squid is?

But, hoping the poorly endowed egos involved step away from their big red buttons and we’re not all left to live underground eating tins of baked beans, the ongoing threat of political pawnery is real and potentially very destructive.

Recent years have seen seafood trade used as a weapon in several political stand-offs.

Russian sanctions on Europe have heavily impacted the industry's pelagic traders, and developing markets for Norwegian salmon companies were hit hard by China's sanctions against the country in lieu of its choice of Nobel prize winner.

Sure, different paths are taken to different markets and back doors are found, but the cost is undeniable, and as the most traded product in the world, sanctions are an increasing risk to unprotected businesses operating in the sector.

Heightened tensions between some of the world's biggest players -- both in terms of political and seafood power -- mean this is only going to get worse.

Aside from its proclaimed nuclear arsenal and eye-jabbing rhetoric, North Korea in itself is not a powerful nation. 

The latest round of sanctions are hurting some Chinese seafood traders, but being Chinese traders, they will find new routes, new markets. 

It will to some extent hurt the North Korean people, who are for the most part already poverty-stricken -- according to a UN diplomat speaking to Reuters, North Korea had been expected to earn an estimated $295 million (€252.1 million) from seafood in 2017 -- but it is no accident that North Korea is largely self-sufficient and the dent in its small export trade will unlikely have much effect on Kim Jong-Un's intentions, aside from inflaming his anger and upping the playground threats.

In the meantime, some political experts argue, the United States is ignoring the real threat to its supremacy and world peace -- China.

While North Korea is a dangerous irritant, in the long-term and the bigger picture, China is pretty keen and increasingly well positioned to take the world's reins, and while the US fannies about tweeting insults at Kim Jong Un, China is calmly and cleverly positioning itself to do whatever it needs to kick the United States off its teetering pedestal.

Indeed, the escalating situation between the United States and North Korea could serve China well. It is an important bridge between the two nations and holds a lot of power when it comes to both countries, their economies, political standing and security.

There are several scenarios that could play out in this regard -- and we all are praying that all-out war isn't one of them -- but all have the real potential to lead to some pretty hefty trade sanctions.

Trade barriers with North Korea and Russia are one thing, but imagine escalated US sanctions against China and the returning shot it will invoke. 

It may seem a ridiculous concept, but Trump seems not against ridiculous concepts, and his actions so far have been protectionist in the extreme.

Sure, the United States is a huge export market for the country, but we have all seen China's reliance begin to shift, particularly when it comes to seafood, with the growing middle class in China giving rise to exciting domestic opportunities for the nation's producers.

IF push comes to shove, does China really need the US seafood market? Perhaps not when bigger pawns are at stake -- and its potential rise to the the top of the world's power rankings is certainly a bigger pawn.

Trade is highly politicized, food and fuel trade particularly so, and it is likely that seafood will increasingly fall foul of political fallout and conflict.

Beyond careful choices at the ballot box, there is no real solution to this, but cushioning yourself with a range of different markets is surely one of them. 

Some of our esteemed leaders appear right now to be on the wrong side of sanity, but while they are captaining the ship you should at least have an eye on your nearest exit.

And hey, worst comes to worst and one of those big red buttons does get pushed, at least the canning industry will benefit from the rush on tinned food.

Comments? Contact rachel.mutter@intrafish.com

Twitter: @rachelintrafish

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