China has temporarily stopped importing shrimp from Vietnam due to claims it has discovered a dangerous virus.
Nguyen Nhu Tiep, Vietnam's chief official in agriculture product quality who just returned from China to discuss the matter, said Chinese authorities said they had found an infectious necrosis virus IHHNV in a recent batch of fresh shrimp from Vietnam, news website VnExpress reported Tuesday.
China will halt further shrimp imports until Vietnam businesses can guarantee they have quarantined the virus, which so far, is not known to infect humans.
Tiep said the halt only affects five Vietnamese firms that exported fresh, raw shrimp to China.
He said his department, which oversees quality under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, will take samples at farms to check for the virus which can kill or stunt the growth of shrimp.
China also required Vietnam to provide a list of qualified exporters, saying that it would only import from those companies.
Tiep said the list will be made available by May 1, 2013.
Vietnam has licensed 542 businesses to export processed seafood to China.
Chinese food authorities in late October informed Vietnam's embassy in China the plan to stop importing prawns from the Tuong Huu Seafood Processing Company in Ho Chi Minh City.
But it was later confirmed that the suspension on imports covers all fresh shrimp from Vietnam.
Local seafood businesses are worried that there's more to the suspension than concern over quality.
Tran Van Linh, general director of Thuan Phuoc company in the central city of Da Nang, said China may be trying to "smear" the quality of shrimp from Vietnam.
"That will greatly damage Vietnam's shrimp business in the world market," Linh said in the website report.
Tran Van Pham, general director of Soc Trang Seafood Company in the Mekong Delta, said the dealings from Chinese importers have always felt "unstable."
Pham suggested Vietnamese shrimp firms cease doing business with China altogether, as the market is not worth the risk diminishing their prestige.
He said the Chinese market has not been a primary one for Vietnamese shrimp exporters, and the tenuous relationship has placed Vietnamese farmers and businesses in a "passive" position.
Figures from Vietnam Customs showed that the country exported around US$143 million of shrimp to China over the first ten months of 2012, accounting for 8 percent of revenues from Vietnamese shrimp.
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