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World supply, demand and trade of fish and fishery products

08 September 2013

An international seminar on fisheries and aquaculture economics held in Spain at the end of July provided information on the changes and developments affecting the world’s fish producers, consumers and markets.

An FAO presentation on “World supply, demand and trade of fish and fishery products” highlighted that aquaculture will be overtaking wild capture fisheries by 2018. China, now the world’s 4th biggest importer and the biggest exporting country, is set to continue its strong growth; its annual per capita consumption has currently reached 31kg and is steadily increasing. A long-term growth of fish markets is also to be expected in the EU28, which is already the first world market, thanks to its rising population and stable per capita consumption of 23kg. The EU dependence on imports will continue rising. The USA also shows signs of a long-term growth, overtaking Japan as the world’s top importing country, with rising population and stable per capita consumption at 24kg. In contrast, Japan will experience a long-term decline in fish consumption and imports, as meat increasingly replaces fish; although Japan still has high fish consumption – 57kg per person – it is steadily decreasing.

In terms of contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to global food security, another presentation highlighted the increasing strategic importance of cheap small pelagics as a food source in developing countries, providing essential nutrients to impoverished populations.

An FAO presentation by Lem on ecolabelling costs and benefits highlighted that the net trade income of developing countries (including China) from fish – reaching around US$24 billion – is more than the net trade income from other agricultural commodities like coffee (around US$11 billion), rubber (around US$7 billion). Price remains the most important driver of global seafood markets: producers try primarily to cover their costs, while traders focus on purchasing at lower prices to increase their margins. This is also true when it comes to ecolabel schemes, where generally, “fishers bear most of the costs, whilst retailers reap most of the rewards”.

Value-added seafood products may help to increase producers’ prices and retailers’ margins by obtaining premiums from consumers, and processing is focussing increasingly on making ‘convenient’ value-added seafood products. Social, life style, dietary and cooking habits may determine the social acceptability of a new processed meal, and these aspects should be carefully assessed: any new processed fish product should take into account consumers’ segments and preferences and potential new competitors.

The country of origin may provide a strong competitive advantage for producers. Whether the product is destined for domestic or international markets, country reputation in fish harvesting constitutes a ‘brand of quality’. Specialisation, in particular methods or products, is a powerful tool for differentiation in the seafood markets. National reputation allows a strong competitive position in domestic markets and improves access to the international supply channels.

Editorial comment

This information confirms that the EU, as the world’s biggest market for fish products, will continue to present major opportunities for ACP fish products. One significant element that could help provide ACP nations’ products with a comparative advantage over the EU market – which is increasingly sensitive to environmental and social sustainability aspects – is the promotion of ‘country of origin’ qualities. These will require promotion and support from local ACP authorities, to help disseminate and improve the country’s image on these aspects. Innovation, in particular for value-added products, will also be key for maintaining and increasing market shares of ACP products, but to avoid failure, careful marketing research must be carried out to identify the social acceptability of new ACP products to be proposed to EU consumers.

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