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Sector Trend Analysis – Fish and seafood trends in South Korea

Note: This report includes forecasting data that is based on baseline historical data.

Executive summary

South Korea is the 27th most populous country in the world at 51.7 million in 2019. It is a high density population, whereby 90% live in urban areas and almost all have access to the internet. The rapidly ageing populace has seen a slight increase in average income and there has been a growth of single person households.

In 2019, ranking as the 12th largest economy in the world, the country's gross domestic product grew by 2.0% to $1.6 trillion. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to have a severe negative impact on the economy with the World Bank predicting a decline of almost 5% in 2020. The impact of the virus may have undetermined impacts on demand and supply chains in the nation as Korea adopts to the eventual post pandemic world.

South Korea's dependence on imports to meet their fish and seafood demands have continued to rise due to domestic and regional constraints on local production. Imported products that offer value, quality, nutritional benefits, new tastes, and convenience, are showing strong growth in the market.

In the fish and seafood market, South Korea imported US$5.7 billion in 2019, an increase of 28% from 2015. While Korea imports fish and seafood were sourced from over 100 countries, the majority of the supply came from China, Russia, Vietnam, and Norway. These four countries held a dominating 78.1% export market share of trade to the republic.

The Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement that came into effect in 2015 will gradually remove all fish and seafood tariffs on Canadian exports by the end of 2026. Between 2015 and 2019 Canada has seen a 98% increase in value of exports to Korea with a market share growth from 1.4% to 2.1%. The continued decrease in tariffs should generate greater opportunities for Canadian suppliers in the coming years.

Country profile

South Korea is a mostly mountainous country occupying the southern half of the Korean Peninsula in Eastern Asia. It is bordered by North Korea, the Yellow Sea, and the Sea of Japan. The economic system is mixed which includes a variety of private freedom, combined with centralized economic planning and government regulation.

The nation is densely populated with 90% of the country's 51.7 million living in urban areas. The Seoul Capital Area, the metropolitan areas of Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi, accounts for 49.8% of the inhabitants, alone (Statistics Korea: Population, 2018). Other major cities include Busan with 3.5 million and Daegu with 2.2 million inhabitants (UN: World's Cities, 2018). South Korea is ethnically homogenous, has a slow population growth, has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, with a gender ratio of approximately one to one, and has an aging population that is growing rapidly and forecasted to be the most senior-populated in the world by 2065 (UN: Data of Korea, 2018).

South Korea has the 12th largest economy in the world with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.62 trillion (The World Bank, 2019). Gross domestic growth dropped to 2.0 percent in 2019 from 2.7 percent in 2018 (Bank of Korea, 2020). Households have an average of 2.53 people and are divided into the following types: single person households (29%), two-person households (27%), 3-person households (21%), and 4-person households or more (22%). As of March 2019, the mean value of household assets and liabilities were 431.91 million won (Can$490,218) and 79.10 million won (Can$89,779) respectively. Average household income in 2018 was 58.28 million won (Can$66,148), 47.29 million won (Can$53,674) of that income was considered as disposable income (Statistics Korea: Survey, 2019).

South Korea is both the international leader in internet connection speeds and internet penetration with nearly 100% of households having access in the country (Korea Net, 2017). This has allowed the nation to become the global leader in online grocery purchases with nearly one-fifth share of the overall market (Nielsen, 2018).

In 2018, the republic was ranked the 25th nation internationally, according to the World Bank, in trade logistics and has established a very advanced and modern transportation network with both public and private sector involved in bolstering the infrastructure capacity.

Trade overview

South Korea is a net importer of seafood products, with imports valued at US$5.7 billion and exports valued at less than half that amount at US$2.1 billion in 2019. This trend is expected to continue in the near future as domestic production of fish and seafood have stagnated due to bilateral and multilateral fishing accords, depleted fish sources, environmental changes, and the rise of economic zones by countries surrounding South Korea (US Department of Agriculture Foreign services, 2019). The nation currently has Free Trade Agreements with 52 countries including Canada. Under the Canada-Korea Free Trade (CKFTA) Agreement, South Korea eliminated tariffs on 87% of Canadian fish and seafood products in 2019. The remainder will be eliminated by 2026.

South Korea's fish and seafood import market in 2019 was valued at US$5.7 billion with China, Russia, Vietnam, and Norway controlling 78.1% of the market share. These 4 nations were the dominant suppliers

between 2015 and 2019, with Norway seeing the greatest economic growth at 92% and a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.8%. During this period China trailed the other three nations with a 15% gain in value of their South Korean export market and a CAGR of 3.6%.

Top ten global fish and seafood markets to South Korea, in US$ millions, 2015-2019
Country 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 CAGR* % 2015-2019 Market Share % in 2019
World 4,451.5 4,728.2 5,210.7 6,060.3 5,717.9 6.5 100.0
China 1,129.8 1,199.3 1,209.9 1,473.4 1,299.5 3.6 22.7
Russia 726.2 733.4 895.8 941.9 955.7 7.1 16.7
Vietnam 582.5 620.9 745.4 856.9 801.5 8.3 14.0
Norway 219.1 300.0 338.8 411.1 421.7 17.8 7.4
United States 246.0 242.3 245.0 276.3 267.9 2.2 4.7
Peru 107.8 95.2 111.4 173.0 216.3 19.0 3.8
Thailand 171.4 149.1 169.0 179.8 142.7 −4.5 2.5
Japan 118.9 143.4 143.9 148.1 136.0 3.4 2.4
Chile 145.5 135.8 158.3 199.9 132.4 −2.3 2.3
Canada 60.5 81.8 99.8 119.3 120.0 18.7 2.1

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

South Korea's seafood imports from 2015 to 2019 saw a rise of 8.6% from 1.4 billion kilograms to 1.5 billion kilograms and a 28.4% increase in value from US$4.5 billion to US$5.7 billion. In contrast to this trend, 2019 saw the market shrink from 2018, the first decline since 2013. During this downturn, the volume imported decreased by 1.7% from 1.6 billion kilograms to 1.5 billion kilograms, and the import market value dropped 5.6% from US$6.1 billion to US$5.7 billion.

More than half of South Korean fish and seafood products in 2019 were supplied by China (US$1.3 billion, 469.8 million kilograms), Russia (US$955.7 million, 252.1 million kilograms), and Vietnam (US$801.5 million, 180.4 million kilograms).

Top ten global suppliers of fish and seafood to South Korea, volume in million kilograms
Country 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 CAGR* % 2015-2019 Market Share % in 2019
World 1,410.3 1,447.5 1,481.4 1,558.4 1,531.4 2.1 100.0
China 438.2 471.4 427.6 487.0 469.8 1.8 30.7
Russia 268.4 287.9 310.6 302.1 252.1 −1.6 16.5
Vietnam 142.0 144.2 156.0 178.0 180.4 6.2 11.8
United States 76.7 81.3 81.3 86.1 76.7 0.0 5.0
Peru 39.5 30.1 38.2 43.3 71.9 16.1 4.7
Norway 53.3 60.3 62.5 69.4 69.8 7.0 4.6
Chile 59.5 64.7 67.0 66.2 47.2 −5.6 3.1
Taiwan 69.3 50.9 47.2 44.2 43.5 −11.0 2.8
Mexico 1.2 2.1 10.8 18.8 37.1 134.0 2.4
Japan 38.7 35.2 37.1 34.8 32.8 −4.0 2.1
Canada (22) 5.9 6.0 7.1 7.2 7.2 5.2 0.5

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Frozen fish and frozen shrimps and prawns were the top two products that South Korea imported from the world. Between 2015 and 2019 frozen fish decreased at a CAGR of −3.5%, despite being the most popular imported product, followed by frozen shrimps and prawns at a CAGR of 7.0%. The two fastest growing products in the top ten imports to South Korea were frozen cuttle fish and squid, which had a CAGR of 26.5%, and fresh or chilled Atlantic and Danube salmon, which had a CAGR of 31.6%.

Top ten global fish and seafood imports to South Korea by product, in US$ millions, 2015-2019
HS Code Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 4,451.5 4,728.2 5,210.7 6,060.3 5,717.9 6.5
030389 Frozen fish, nowhere else specified 538.6 582.0 493.1 515.2 467.7 −3.5
030617 Frozen shrimps and prawns 343.3 357.4 434.8 460.9 450.2 7.0
030633 Crabs, whether in shell or not, live, fresh or chilled 299.7 363.7 409.8 16.9
030752 Octopus, frozen 320.0 446.1 369.4 7.4
030743 Frozen Cuttle fish and squid 192.4 354.4 308.0 26.5
030214 Fresh or chilled Atlantic salmon and Danube salmon 76.1 138.1 163.1 217.4 228.3 31.6
030199 Live fish 160.0 168.5 173.0 196.3 179.7 3.0
030499 Frozen fish meat, nowhere else specified 178.7 170.3 164.4 201.3 176.8 −0.3
160521 Shrimps and prawns, prepared or preserved 116.9 124.8 160.8 179.7 169.2 9.7
030614 Frozen crabs 127.3 131.9 132.1 169.2 169.2 7.4

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Canadian Performance

The Canadian fish and seafood exports to South Korea have seen considerable growth since the signing of the CKFTA. From 2015 to 2019 revenue doubled from US$61 million to US$120 million, market share increased by 0.7% (1.4% to 2.1%), and the volume exports from Canada grew by 22% (5.9 million kilograms to 7.2 million kilograms). Canada also achieved a CAGR of 18.7% during this period, the highest among the top 15 importers into South Korea.

Canada was the 22nd largest source for South Korean imports and valued tenth in the world in 2019. Growth, however, of Canadian products to South Korea from 2018 to 2019 was the smallest in the last 5 years, reflecting the republic's overall sluggish import market. This period saw Canada's South Korean exports grow by only 1% from US$119.3 million to US$120 million, while the volume stayed relatively stagnant at approximately 7.2 million kilograms. The leading Canadian fish and seafood exports were lobsters (US$55.1 million, 2.2 million kilograms), frozen lobsters (US$47.6 million, 2.3 million kilograms) and sea urchins (US$3.0 million, 0.03 million kilograms). Of the top ten exports to Korea, Canada provided seven of these commodities to the republic and controlled a market share in two other commodity categories within the top ten.

Of the top ten Canadian exports frozen lobsters and sea urchins each enjoyed a strong CAGR with both passing the 40% mark. The only category that surpassed these totals was prepared and preserved lobster which had a CAGR of 66.7%.

Top ten Canadian fish and seafood imports to South Korea by product, in US$ millions, 2015-2019
HS Code Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 60.5 81.8 99.8 119.3 120.0 18.7
030632 Live/fresh/chilled lobsters 0.0 0.0 61.7 67.8 55.1 −5.6
030612 Frozen lobsters 10.6 16.4 20.3 34.4 47.6 45.7
030821 Sea urchins 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.2 3.0 40.4
030616 Frozen cold-water shrimps and prawns 2.0 2.6 3.2 2.5 2.6 6.8
160530 Lobster, prepared or preserved 0.3 0.5 0.4 3.9 2.2 66.7
030772 Frozen, clams, cockles and ark shells 0.0 0.0 1.9 1.2 1.8 −2.8
030389 Frozen fish, nowhere else specified 4.0 3.5 3.1 1.8 1.5 −22.5
030331 Frozen lesser or greenland Atlantic or Pacific halibut 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9 N/A
160510 Crab 0.6 0.7 0.7 0.6 0.8 8.8
030382 Frozen rays and skates 1.7 1.0 0.5 0.7 0.6 −23.9

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

N/A: Not Applicable

Opportunities for Canada

South Korea's modern infrastructure, corporate governance, and workforce have made the nation a favourable environment for business. The eventual elimination of tariffs by the CKFTA will give Canadian exporters preferential access to one of the world's largest economies and support them in expanding their economic footprint into Asia.

South Korea's reliance on importing fish and seafood to satisfy its domestic needs, as well as, consumers placing more emphasis on country of origin, all provide opportunities for Canadian sourced products. Imported goods and agribusinesses that offer good value, high quality, health or nutritional benefits, new tastes, and convenience, are showing strong growth in the market. Korea is one of the largest consumers of fish and seafood in the world.

Impact of the Coronavirus

The pandemic is causing an economic downturn that is expected to continue in 2020, due to disruptions to supply chains, risk aversion in financial markets, weaker final demand for imported goods and services, and decline in overall business and consumer confidence (OECD: 2020 OECD Economic Outlook). The World Bank says a protracted COVID-19 outbreak could cause South Korea's GDP to contract this year by nearly five percent, the first decline in the nation's GDP since 1998.

The demand and prices for fish and seafood are being impacted negatively by border controls, closure of markets and restaurants, confinement, and social distancing measures. There has been a reduction in demand for fresh fish products and an increase in demand for frozen, canned, and processed fish and seafood. A prolonged downturn may occur even after current restrictions are removed or relaxed. It maybe expected, due to changes in consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic, a greater emphasis in the future on domestic processing, digitization, and automation to reduce face to face contact, and a renewed emphasis on origin of product.

The coronavirus has resulted in a surge of online grocery purchases, with some grocers tripling their sales (Market Watch, 2020). This will likely result in increasing the adoption of online purchasing in South Korea in the long term as more and more people will become comfortable with this purchasing system.

Canadian provinces' fish and seafood exports to South Korea

In 2019, according to provincial data, Canada exported US$91.9 million of fish and seafood to South Korea. Nova Scotia accounted for US$53.8 million, followed by New Brunswick at US$17.9 million, and Newfoundland and Labrador at US$6.8 million. These three provinces accounted for 85.4% of overall export revenue for Canada to South Korea. The South Korean market is important to Canadian fish and seafood exports, particularly for the lobsters, sea urchins, shrimp and prawn categories. However, in comparison, in part due to Covid-19, exports declined from US$18.5 (Jan to April, 2019) to US$17.2 (Jan to April, 2020).

Canadian provinces' fish and seafood exports to South Korea, in US$ thousands
Province 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 January-April 2019 January-April 2020 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 60,151.7 71,818.3 83,466.0 93,407.6 91904.0 18.5 17,168.6 11.2
Nova Scotia 42,870.5 48,900.9 60,745.0 64,834.4 53,794.7 14.7 12,366.1 5.8
New Brunswick 6,959.8 5,135.5 7,981.4 16,214.4 17,912.9 0.7 1,928.8 26.7
Newfoundland and Labrador 2,503.1 5,803.1 5,719.2 2,708.9 6,751.4 0.8 993.8 28.2
Prince Edward Island 1,263.6 3,142.0 2,623.0 4,205.7 5,020.5 0.8 180.0 41.2
Quebec 549.5 484.6 1,166.3 1,550.4 4,562.9 55.0 69.8
British Columbia 4,937.4 7,783.5 4,752.4 3,705.7 3,617.1 1.4 1,343.4 −7.5
Ontario 929.6 565.9 461.0 188.0 244.4 0.1 276.8 −28.4

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Live, fresh, and chilled lobsters from Nova Scotia accounted for 65.1% of all fish and seafood exports from the province to South Korea in 2019, despite the category having a −12.7% CAGR. Frozen fish, the category rounding out the top five largest exports, has seen its CAGR drop sharply at −35.1%.

Nova Scotia's top 5 fish and seafood exports to South Korea, in US$ thousands
HS Codes Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 January-April 2020 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 42,870.5 48,900.9 60,745.0 64,834.4 53,794.7 26626.5 5.84
030632 Live/fresh/chilled lobsters 0.0 0.0 46,014.7 45,417.7 35,040.4 18648.7 −12.7
030612 Frozen lobsters 4,532.3 7,977.9 9,589.4 14,640.7 13,506.2 7255.8 31.4%
030616 Frozen cold-water shrimps and prawns 0.0 0.0 341.4 215.1 1,592.0 109.6 116.0%
030772 Frozen, even in shell, clams, cockles and ark shells 0.0 0.0 1,080.6 972.0 1,305.9 349.9 9.9
030389 Frozen fish, nowhere else specified 3,683.4 1,369.2 1,372.7 918.3 655.5 19.1 −35.1

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Over 97% of New Brunswick's fish and seafood exports to South Korea were in a classification related to lobsters at a combined value of US$17.4 million in 2019. Frozen lobsters, alone, made up 96.2% of the products supplied to South Korea and grew 162.3% from 2015 to 2019. In 2020, from January to April, the only fish and seafood that New Brunswick exported to South Korea were lobsters.

New Brunswick's top 5 fish and seafood exports to South Korea in US$ thousands
HS Codes Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 January-April 2020 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 6,959.8 5,135.5 7,981.4 16,214.4 17,912.9 5628.1 26.7
030612 Frozen lobsters 6,569.0 5,084.1 6,828.5 13,462.0 17,227.5 5353.3 5353.3
030614 Frozen crabs 0.0 0.0 525.0 475.3 472.5 0.0 −5.1
160530 Lobster, prepared or preserved 0.0 0.0 140.5 1,334.5 175.7 246.0 11.8
030632 Live/fresh/chilled lobsters 0.0 0.0 32.6 49.9 30.2 28.0 −3.7
030214 Fresh or chilled Atlantic salmon and Danube salmon 0.6 29.1 22.5 0.0 7.0 0.0 86.9

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Newfoundland's fish and seafood exports to South Korea grew by 169.7% from 2015 to 2019. In 2019, frozen lobsters accounted for over 57% of products sent from the province, followed by shrimp and prawns who accounted for 25.4% of the market.

Newfoundland's top 5 fish and seafood exports to South Korea, in US$ thousands
HS Codes Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 January-April 2020 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 2,503.1 5,803.1 5,719.2 2,708.9 6,751.4 1246.9 128.2
030612 Frozen lobsters 26.4 0.0 1,023.1 941.5 3,877.5 0 248.3
030616 Frozen cold-water shrimps and prawns 1,426.1 2,467.5 3,550.8 848.7 1,712.0 846.9 4.7
030359 Frozen anchovies, Indian mackerels, seerfishes, jacks, crevalles, silver pomfrets, pacific saury, scads, capelin, kawakawa, bonitos, marlins, sailfishes and spearfish 0.0 0.0 246.6 422.5 450.1 343.2 35.1
030743 Cuttle fish and squid, frozen 0.0 0.0 0.0 70.1 355.0 0 406.2
030617 Frozen shrimps and prawns 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 107.6 0 N/C

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

N/C: not calculable

All of Prince Edward Island's fish and seafood exports to South Korea were lobsters at the value of US$5.0 million in 2019. Frozen lobsters were the dominant product in this category.

Prince Edward Island's fish and seafood exports to South Korea, in US$ thousands
HS Codes Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 January-April 2020 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 1,263.6 3,142.0 2,623.0 4,205.7 5,020.5 1383.3 41.2
030612 Frozen lobsters 1,157.9 2,951.0 2,434.2 2,439.1 4,435.6 1160.9 39.9
160530 Lobster, prepared or preserved 0.0 191.0 152.7 1,733.3 584.9 222.5 45.2
030732 Frozen mussels 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0 0.0
030632[a] Live/fresh/chilled lobsters 99.7 0.0 36.2 33.3 0.0 0 −8.0

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

a: HS 030632 previously reported under HS 030622 in 2016

About 99.1% of Quebec's fish and seafood exports to South Korea were lobsters, valued at US$4.5 million in 2019. January to April, 2020 saw a considerable change from the span in 2019 as exports increased to South Korea from zero to US$55,001.

Quebec's top 5 fish and seafood exports to South Korea, in US$ thousands
HS Codes Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 January-April 2020 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 549.5 484.6 1166.3 1550.4 4562.9 55.0 69.8
030612 Frozen lobsters 121.9 266.6 733.9 1428.3 4364.6 0.0 144.6
160530 Lobster, prepared or preserved 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 158.0 0.0 N/C
121221 Seaweeds and other algae, fresh, chilled, frozen or dried 0.0 0.0 0.0 36.5 36.5 0.0 0.1
050800 Coral and similar materials, shells of molluscs, crustaceans or echinoderms, cuttle-bone, powder and waste 3.0 10.3 0.0 5.8 3.8 1.4 6.6
051191 Products of fish or crustaceans, molluscs or other aquatic invertebrates; dead fish, crustaceans, molluscs or other aquatic invertebrates 36.4 0.0 0.0 79.8 0.0 0.0 29.9

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

N/C: not calculable

South Korean imports from British Columbia fell by 26.7% from 2015 to 2019. Among the top five exports from British Columbia, frozen rays and skates was the only category to see a decrease, with a decline of −69.8%.

British Columbia's top 5 fish and seafood exports to South Korea, in US$ thousands
HS Codes Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 January-April 2020 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 4,937.4 7,783.5 4,752.4 3,705.7 3,617.1 1910.7 −7.5
030821 Sea urchins 485.7 718.8 748.1 653.4 1344.8 840.7 29.0
030382 Frozen rays and skates 1048.1 596.2 368.4 399.4 316.9 63.0 −25.9
030441 Fresh or chilled fillets of Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon and Danube salmon 0.0 38.4 80.2 16.4 293.2 44.5 96.9
030214 Fresh or chilled Atlantic salmon and Danube salmon 21.1 415.9 116.6 14.4 244.6 510.0 84.4
030444 Fresh or chilled fillets of fish of the families 70.8 201.0 195.1 62.2 189.4 0.0 27.9

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Ontario exports to South Korea saw a 73.7% decrease between 2015 and 2019. January to April, 2020 saw its exports numbers of US$276,784 surpass the numbers of the entire year in 2019. Lobster sales from Ontario that were live, fresh, or chilled lobsters continued its upward trend as it more than doubled from 2018 and 2019. Exports are currently on pace in 2020 to surpass the previous year's number.

Ontario's fish and seafood exports to South Korea, in US$ thousands
HS Codes Description 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 January-April 2020 CAGR* % 2015-2019
Total 929.6 565.9 461.0 188.0 244.4 548.2 −28.4
030632 Lobsters, live, fresh or chilled 0.0 0.0 210.6 65.8 138.4 224 −18.9
121221 Seaweeds and other algae, fresh, chilled, frozen or dried 0.0 0.0 0.0 35.5 75.6 0.0 113.0
150430 Fats and oils and their fractions of marine mammals 10.1 10.5 10.4 7.9 28.2 0.0 29.4
130231 Agar-agar, whether or not modified 4.9 8.0 4.4 1.5 2.2 66.9 −18.4
160559 Molluscs, prepared or preserved 0.0 0.0 0.0 5.5 0.0 0.0 N/C

Source: Global Trade Tracker, 2020

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

N/C: not calculable

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Sector Trend Analysis – Fish and seafood trends in South Korea
Global Analysis Report

Prepared by: Suresh Srikant, Market Analyst

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