HK dried seafood trade hit by China's graft fight

HK dried seafood trade hit by China's graft fight

HONG KONG - In a narrow Hong Kong street filled with the tang of dried sea creatures, shopkeepers are blaming China's recent corruption crackdown for falling sales of expensive banquet foods such as shark fin and abalone.

Such items have fallen off the menu since China's new leadership came to power demanding austerity from Communist Party and military officials as a means of reining in graft and dampening public anger over corruption.

Suppliers, restaurants and hotels in the trading hub of Hong Kong all say the loss of appetite from the mainland has thinned out sales in a market looking for a portion of China's estimated annual 300 billion yuan (S$62.7 billion) expenditure on state-funded banquets.

On Hong Kong's Dried Seafood Street, the centre of trade in dried delicacies, shopkeeper Leung Wing-chiu told AFP that sales were down 20 per cent at a time when increased ethical awareness over shark fin and rising rents are pressuring business. "Beijing's frugality campaign has driven money out of my pocket," said the 94-year-old, who is also the Dried Sea Food & Grocery Merchants Association president. "Demand from mainland buyers, especially hotels and restaurants, has shrunk a lot. This is particularly true for high-end goods such as dried abalone, shark fins and bird's nest."

Two catering companies listed on the southern Chinese city's stock exchange even cited the government's emphasis on frugality as they issued profit warnings to shareholders last month.

Mr Leung said China's state-funded banquet culture was a key source of revenue, and while the economic slowdown had affected business over the past few years, "the situation has got a lot worse since the new leadership ascended to power".

Chinese officials have long held lavish liquor-drenched receptions as a way of building business relationships, greasing the wheels of power, and showing off wealth and status.

The Jiu San Society, one of China's eight legally recognised non-communist political parties, last year called for a curb on government spending on such banquets, which it estimated at 300 billion yuan a year. Other scholars put the figure even higher.

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