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Developments in EU canned tuna market

06 September 2014

Two recent publications, the FFA Globefish market report and Trade and Industry News, in its special feature on the Infofish tuna conference 2014, provide an overview of developments in the European canned tuna market, which grew in 2013 as a result of increasing demand. New, convenient fish products, as well as those coming from sustainable sources, were strongly promoted by EU retailers. For example, commitment from EU major retailers to use tuna caught by pole-and-line methods rather than from fish aggregating devices (FADs) – therefore produced more sustainably – has resulted in increased demand.

Demand for canned tuna in all major EU markets grew positively in 2013, including French imports from the Seychelles (+13%), German imports from Ecuador (+53%) and UK imports from Thailand (53.8%). The EU demand was met by EU canned tuna production (around 166,000 tonnes), as well as imports (534,564 tonnes). Spain remains the largest EU producer of canned tuna (68%), followed by Italy (20%). Primary processed tuna products, imported for canning, also increased in traditional EU tuna processing countries, such as Italy or Spain; Papua New Guinea (PNG) sold about 32% more pre-cooked tuna loins to Spain in 2013 than in 2012. However, Ecuador is the largest exporter to the EU, with around 88,000 tonnes.

The main EU partner for the Ecuadorian tuna processing sector is Spain. Following a meeting with the Ecuadorian ambassador in June, the General Secretary of the Spanish tuna importers and canners’ association highlighted that the Galician tuna investments generate more than 5,000 jobs in Ecuador. But, the situation for the EU–Ecuador tuna trade is unclear. The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) is due to finish by the end of December 2014, and negotiations for an EU–Ecuador free trade agreement (FTA) have just been completed. An article in the agreement mentions that “the commercial terms negotiated between the two parties will enter into force during the second half of 2016.” If no solution is found for the interim period, it is possible there will be a gap during which EU import tariffs for Ecuadorian fish products will rise.

Thailand’s exports to major markets in Europe have also grown, including to the UK (+140.8%), France (+43.7%) and the Netherlands (+42.6%), despite the halt in the EU–Thailand FTA negotiations, due to the political situation.

Other major EU suppliers – the Philippines and PNG – were warned earlier in June that they were not doing enough to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Both risk being identified as “non-cooperating countries” in the fight against IUU fishing. This takes place at a time when the Philippines is hoping to benefit from the GSP+ scheme, which would allow the country to export its tuna duty free. Unless measures are taken to respond and rectify the situation within the next 6 months, both countries could face an export ban by the EU of fish products.

Editorial comment

Fish products from sustainable sources – in particular eco-labelled products – are increasingly in demand by EU market retailers. Conversely, the EU IUU Regulation has become a key requirement to be met by ACP countries and producers. As part of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), further requirements will soon be applied on labelling fish products, making it compulsory to mention the “method of catching” wild caught products. Meeting this increasingly complex set of requirements requires large investments by ACP governments and fish producers to ensure the legality and sustainability of fishing practices, as well as traceability “from the net to the plate”. Against this background, finding ways to streamline traceability requirements – as requested by the EU IUU, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and new labelling regulation would appear necessary. Ideally, a single document should contain all necessary information showing that the product has come from an approved vessel/establishment, has been legally caught, and by what means. It should also be noted that aquaculture products are neither covered by the EU/IUU Regulation nor by the new labelling requirement on fishing gears.


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