During the hiatus the company hopes to have engaged new markets as it is already looking keenly in directions towards Mexico and China.
The company exports up to 95% of all its product, the most-favored markets having been the former Soviet states where Latvian canned sprats have long been a trusted and savory commodity. But with the plunge in the exchange rate of the ruble the buying power in these countries has fallen just as steeply.
“It’s just a problem to find enough distribution channels, and that’s in the whole sector. We’ve suffered less, but suffered. So I’d call the situation pretty bad,” said the joint-stock company board chairman Arnolds Babris.
This year’s catch has also thrown the business a curve ball – insufficient hauls have been a cause for consternation.
“This year the situation’s bad in that there’s a lot of really tiny fish. The quota gets used up very ineffectively, but that’s the way things are this year,” he remarked.
Though the company has other orders, production costs for sorting hauls have grown rapidly, prompting the company to decide to shut down operations temporarily for a few months, sometime in May or June.
“We’ll petition through the association (of fish processing companies) to postpone our tax obligations. We’ll need some understanding on the part of our financing institutions. We’re working and we have experience in crisis situations,” said executive director Māris Trankalis.
The company hopes to work towards western markets and has already launched talks for export trade to Mexico and China, which have shown interest.
“The amounts may not be much at first, but after the Mexico trip we’ve already received an order,” Trankalis said. “Interesting that all the way in Mexico they know what sprats are, which pleased us and they like the product,” he declared.
About 450 employees will remain idle until about August, says the company’s leadership. During this time they will be eligible to sign up for unemployment benefits. But as soon as the plant restarts, they’ll be needed back on the job.
Meanwhile the Latvian Investment and Development Agency (LIAA) tried to ease the unfortunate misunderstanding between Latvia’s Fish Cannery Association and the Foreign Affairs Ministry regarding delayed sprats exports to China, suggesting it was still a matter of three or four months before the first shipments might get there.
LIAA’s representative in China Ieva Jākobsone-Bellomi told national information agency LETA Thursday that it was still hard to predict exactly how long until Latvia’s sprats producers will make China’s list of accredited food imports.
She explained that the companies involved had asked the LIAA to involve state agencies in their frustrated attempts to complete the certification form approval process.
“So the LIAA asked the Embassy to see what it could do in getting the documents through and parallel to that with an EC delegation to Beijing we got a meeting with high-level fish imports experts,” she related.
“These are minor technical issues we need to get out of the way on China’s side,” she said, but added that these things need to be maintained at the highest-levels of attention, as Agriculture Minister Jānis Dūklavs plans on doing during his working visit meetings with counterparts in the food distribution industry as part of Latvia’s trade delegation to China this May.