Vietnam is trying to reverse a decline in fisheries shipments, one of the country’s biggest dollar earners, to keep its economy growing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re working on measures to not only stop the decline but also increase fisheries exports to reach about $9 billion for all of 2020,” Tran Dinh Luan, general director of the agriculture ministry’s fisheries department, said in an interview in Hanoi.

The country shipped $8.6 billion of fisheries products last year, before exports fell 5.3% in the first eight months of 2020. The year-to-date drop has narrowed from an 8.6% contraction in the first half, with shipments beginning to revive in July and August, Luan said.

Export-reliant Vietnam is trying to maintain growth, with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc last week urging ministries and provinces to boost their efforts to prevent a contraction. The government forecasts gross domestic product growth of 2.4% this year—the slowest in two decades—after a 0.36% expansion in the second quarter.

Vietnam is taking the following steps:

  • Raising standards to meet the requirements of the European Union, its biggest export market after the U.S., which raised a warning in October 2017 after a number of Vietnamese fishing boats were caught trespassing in other countries’ waters. To meet EU demands, Vietnam has raised the proportion of boats equipped with GPS and other tracking devices to 81%, from 56% in April;
  • Helping fishery producers switch to processed products, which are more suitable for online sales. “We aim to help companies increase shipments of processed products for home cooking, instead of focusing on frozen stuff for hotels or supermarkets like in pre-virus times,” Luan said.

The agriculture ministry aims to increase 2020 farm exports to more than $41 billion, from about $40 billion last year, Luan said. Vietnam expects to pass Thailand this year to become the world’s second-largest rice exporter, he said.