Ecuador says China restoring shrimp exports following COVID-19 dispute

QUITO, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Ecuador expects a quick resolution to a trade dispute with China over traces of coronavirus in a container of exported shrimp that led Beijing to suspend imports from three companies, Ecuador’s production and trade minister said on Tuesday.

Chinese officials last month said they found six positive results in tests for coronavirus in the walls of a container carrying frozen Ecuadorean shrimp, even through the shrimp and inner packaging tested negative.

China has given the green light for one of the three companies to resume exports after Ecuador agreed to improve shipping protocols, Ivan Ontaneda said in an interview, adding that the other two should be approved soon.

“We are in the final stretch for the other two establishments to also overcome the impasse,” said Ontaneda, who oversees the country’s fishing industry.

“The virtual inspections were completed to (their) satisfaction, with positive feedback on quality standards.”

One of the three companies, Industrial Pesquera Santa Priscila SA, sent Reuters a June 10 letter to clients in which it said it had received authorization from China to resume exports.

The other two companies, Empacreci SA and Empacadora Del Pacifico SA, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

An oil-producing nation, Ecuador exported nearly $4 billion of shrimp in 2019, 55% of which went to China, according to official data.

But shrimp sales have dropped in the last two months due to the economic effects of the coronavirus, as have remittances from emigrees, which are historically an important source of foreign exchange for Ecuador.

“Today we’re relying on income from non-oil exports, this income must be increased,” said Ontaneda.

Social distancing measures meant to control the pandemic cost the economy some $7 billion between mid-March and August due to declines in industrial and commercial activity.

The government needs about $4 billion to reactivate idled businesses, he added. (Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, writing by Brian Ellsworth, editing by Richard Pullin)