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China, Norway seafood deals to be sealed this week

'It's only a matter of time before China becomes the biggest buyer of Norwegian fish.'

This week will mark a historic date in the relationship between Norway and China as the two countries will sign away their seafood issues of the past. 

Norway's largest ever seafood delegation, headed by Norway's Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg, traveled to China on the weekend.

Sandberg plans to sign political agreements with his Chinese counterparts, which will open up that market for Norwegian seafood, while the around 180 delegates from the industry are planning to establish contracts with Chinese firms.

The normalization of political relations between China and Norway is widely regarded as a game-changer for Norwegian seafood exporters. In December, Oslo and Beijing agreed to normalize diplomatic and political ties, which were frozen since 2010 when Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

"It's is only a matter of time before China becomes the biggest buyer of Norwegian fish," Sigmund Bjorgo of the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC), told IntraFish sister publication Fiskeribladet.

Bjorgo moved to China in 2011. Many expected a quick solution back then but the market shut further down in 2013 and 2015, and by 2016 most had lost their faith it would ever open up again.

"In December last year, the first signals of a normalization came in and after that, we have seen a real boost of optimism and increased interest in China," he said.

Positive progress

"I think it's not a question of if, but when China will become the biggest buyer of Norwegian seafood," Bjorgo said.

Last month, Sandberg signed an agreement on food imports and exports with Shuping Zhi, China's minister of food safety and veterinary health. Similar deals will be signed this week.

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"Actual market access for salmon has not yet changed. This is a process. There is not one challenge to be solved, there are many," Bjorgo said. "And there must be negotiations. But the progress has been positive in the last few months."

It is the salmon exporters who will experience the biggest growth in the country, he believes.

"There is no doubt that it is salmon that has the biggest upside potential in China and will start exporting fastest, because there has been little salmon to China in recent years," he said.

But Norwegian salmon can also bring other seafood products into the huge Chinese market.

China has long been a hub for importing, processing and re-exporting seafood, but the trend is that more of the imported seafood is eaten in the country, according to the fisheries mission.

Bjorgo predicts the new growth will come from species that are new to the Chinese market.

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