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5. What is the amount of traded fishery products?

  • 5.1 What are the general trends in trade?
  • 5.2 How does this trade affect the economy of various countries?
  • 5.3 What are the markets for specific types of fish products?

5.1 What are the general trends in trade?

The source document for this Digest states:

Fish trade and commodities

In addition to its contribution to economic activity, employment and in generating foreign exchange, trade in fish and fishery products plays an important role in improving food security and contributes to fish products meeting nutritional needs. Fish and fishery products are highly traded with more than 37 percent (live weight equivalent) of total production entering international trade as various food and feed products (Figure 30). A specific feature of the trade in fish is the wide range of product types and participants. In 2006, 194 countries reported exports of fish and fishery products. World exports of fish and fishery products reached US$85.9 billion in 2006. This represented an increase of 9.6 percent on 2005 and of 62.7 percent on 1996 (Figure 31). Export value expanded at an average annual rate of 5 percent in the period 1996–2006. In real terms (adjusted for inflation), exports of fish and fishery products increased by 32.1 percent in the period 2000–06, by 26.6 percent in 1996–2006 and by 103.9 percent between 1986 and 2006. In terms of quantity (live weight equivalent), exports peaked at 56 million tonnes in 2005, with a growth of 28 percent since 1995 and of 104 percent since 1985. In 2006, exports decreased by 4 percent to 54 million tonnes. However, this decrease was due to reduced production and trade in fishmeal. In fact, exports of fish for human consumption rose a further 5 percent compared with the previous year and have increased by 57 percent since 1996. Available data for 2007 indicate further strong growth to about US$92 billion. However, some weakening in demand was registered in late 2007 and early 2008 as turmoil in the financial sector started to affect consumer confidence in major markets. This is expected to influence discretionary spending and sales of higher-value items in the short term. However, the long-term trend for trade in fish is positive, with a rising share of production from both developed and developing countries reaching international markets.

The growing exports of the last few years reflect the increase in consumption of fish and fishery products not only in the EU and the United States of America but in many other regions of the world, including Asia (with the notable exception of Japan). Furthermore, progress in processing, packaging, handling and transportation has enabled more rapid and efficient trade. Rising trade quantities (except for fishmeal) and values reflect the increasing globalization of the fisheries value chain, with the outsourcing of processing to other countries. At the same time, the growth of international and global distribution channels through large retailers has furthered this development.

In 2006, increased fishery exports coincided with an impressive global trade expansion, caused mainly by the increase in global economic activity. In its World Trade Report 2007, WTO indicated that all major regions recorded gross domestic product (GDP) growth outpacing population growth and that global GDP growth had accelerated to 3.7 percent, the second-best performance since 200018. According to the UN Comtrade database, real merchandise export growth grew by 13.4 percent in 2006 compared with 2005, and well above the average annual rate of 8.7 percent in 1996–2006. An important factor was also the influence exerted by price movements and exchange rates on trade flows, in particular as a consequence of the weaker US dollar (which is used to denominate many commodity prices) and the marked appreciation of several currencies (especially European ones) against it. Since 2004, prices of various agricultural commodities (particularly of basic foods) have rebounded after a prolonged period of decline. They rose sharply in 2006, and some have been rising at an even faster pace since then. High feed prices have also raised costs for animal production and resulted in an increase in livestock prices. A series of long- and short-term factors have contributed to this growth. They include the tightening in own supplies, the intertwining of global markets, exchange rates, rising crude oil prices and freight rates. Prices of fishery products followed the general upward trend of all food prices in the course of 2007 and early 2008. This is the first time in decades that real prices of fish have been rising. Prices for species from capture fisheries are increasing more than those of farmed species because of the larger impact from higher energy prices on fishing vessel operations than on farmed species. However, aquaculture is also experiencing higher costs, in particular for feed. For more information on this issue, see Box 14 (page 160).

Table 8 shows the top ten exporters and importers of fish and fishery products in 1996 and 2006. Since 2002, China has been the world’s largest exporter of fish and fishery products. In the last few years, it has further consolidated its leading position. In 2006, its exports reached US$9.0 billion, and they grew further to US$9.3 billion in 2007. Despite this, fishery exports represented only 1 percent of its total merchandise exports in 2006 and 2007. China’s fishery exports have increased remarkably since the early 1990s. This increase is linked to its growing fishery production, as well as the expansion of its fish-processing industry, reflecting competitive labour and production costs. In addition to exports from domestic fisheries production, China also exports reprocessed imported raw material, adding considerable value in the process. China has experienced a significant increase in its fishery imports in the past decade. In 2006, it was the sixth-largest importer with US$4.1 billion, and imports reached US$4.5 billion in 2007. This growth has been particularly noticeable since the country’s accession to the WTO in late 2001, as a consequence of which it lowered import duties, including those on fish and fishery products. The growth in imports is partly a result of the above-mentioned imports by China’s processors of raw material for reprocessing and export. However, it also reflects China’s growing domestic consumption of species, mainly of high value, that are not available from local sources.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 45-48

5.2 How does this trade affect the economy of various countries?

The source document for this Digest states:

In addition to China, other developing countries play a major role in the fishery industry. In 2006, 79 percent of world fishery production took place in developing countries. Their exports represented 49 percent (US$42.5 billion) of world exports of fish and fishery products in value terms and 59 percent (31.6 million tonnes in live weight equivalent) in terms of quantity. An important share of their exports consisted of fishmeal (35 percent by quantity, but only 5 percent by value). In 2006, in terms of quantity, developing countries contributed 70 percent of world non-food fishery exports. Developing countries have also significantly increased their share of the quantity of fish exports destined for human consumption, from 43 percent in 1996 to 53 percent in 2006. The fishery industries of developing countries rely heavily on the markets of developed countries, not only as outlets for their exports, but also as suppliers of their imports for local consumption (mainly low-priced, small pelagics as well as high-value fishery species for emerging economies) or for their processing industries. In 2006, in value terms, 40 percent of the imports of fish and fishery products by developing countries originated from developed countries. In fact, owing to the above-mentionedphenomenon of outsourcing, several developing countries are importing an increasing quantity of raw material for further processing and re-export to developed countries. Fishery exports of developing countries are gradually evolving from raw material for the processing industry in developed countries to value-added products and also high-value live fish. In 2006, in value terms, 75 percent of the fishery exports of developing countries were destined for developed countries. A share of these exports consisted of processed fishery products prepared using imported fish. Fishmeal was the only product for which exports from developing countries to other developing countries (58 percent of the total) were more important than exports to developed countries. This is mainly due to the significant aquaculture production in many developing countries and the resulting need for feed.

Fishery net exports (i.e. the total value of their exports less the total value of their imports) continue to be of vital importance to the economies of many developing countries ( Figure 32). They have increased significantly in recent decades, growing from US$1.8 billion in 1976 to US$7.2 billion in 1984, to US$16.7 billion in 1996 and reaching US$24.6 billion in 2006. The low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) play an active and growing role in the trade in fish and fishery products. In 1976, their exports accounted for 10 percent of the total value of fishery exports. This share expanded to 12 percent in 1986, 17 percent in 1996 and 20 percent in 2006, when their fishery exports were US$17.2billion and their fishery net export revenues were an estimated US$10.7 billion.

In 2006, world fish imports19 reached a new record high of US$89.6 billion, an increase of 10 percent on the previous year, and of 57 percent since 1996. Preliminary data suggest that world imports of fish and fishery products totalled about US$96 billion in 2007. All major importing markets, except Japan, further increased the value of their imports of fish and fishery products, with the EU experiencing a significant 12-percent rise. Japan, the United States of America and the EU are the major markets, with a total share of 72 percent of the total import value in 2006. In total, developed countries accounted for 80 percent of imports in terms of value but only 62 percent in terms of quantity (live weight equivalent), indicating the higher unit value of products imported by developed countries. With stagnant domestic fishery production and growing demand, developed markets have to rely on imports and/or on aquaculture to cover a growing share of internal consumption. This is also the main reason why import tariffs in developed countries are so low and, albeit with a few exceptions (such as for some value-added products), do not represent any significant barrier to increased trade. As a result, in recent decades, fishery products from developing countries have been able to gain increased access to developed-country markets without facing prohibitive custom duties. In 2006, about 50 percent of the import value of developed countries originated from developing countries. At present, rather than import tariffs, the principal barrier to increased exports from developing countries (beyond the physical availability of product) is the lack of ability to adhere to quality- and safety-related import requirements. Furthermore, they are also hindered by importing countries’ increasing requirements that production processes respect animal health, environmental standards and social concerns.

Not only is the emerging dominance of large retail and restaurant chains in seafood distribution and sales shifting negotiating power towards the final stages in the value chain, retailers are also increasingly imposing private- or market-based standards and labels on developing- country exports. This is making it more difficult for small-scale fish producers to enter international markets and distribution channels.

The maps in Figure 33 indicate trade flows of fish and fishery products by continent for the period 2004–06. However, the overall picture presented by these maps is not complete as information is not available for all countries. For example, about one-third of African countries did not report their trade in fishery products by country of origin or destination. However, the quantity of data available is sufficient to establish general trends. The Latin America and the Caribbean region holds a strong positive net fishery exporter position, as do the Oceania regions and the developing countries of Asia. Africa has been a net exporter since 1985, when the factory ships of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe either stopped fishing or ceased landing massive quantities of inexpensive frozen pelagic fish in West Africa. Europe, Japan and North America are characterized by a fishery trade deficit (Figure 34).

In 2006, 97 countries were net exporters of fish and fishery products. In recent decades, there has been a tendency towards increased intensity of fishery trade within regions. Most developed countries trade more with other developed countries than with developing countries despite a growing share of fish consumption being covered by imports from developing countries. In 2006, some 85 percent (in value terms) of fishery exports from developed countries were destined to other developed countries, and about 50 percent of developed-country fishery imports originated in other developed countries. Intra-EU trade is particularly significant, with more than 84 percent of EU exports going to, and about 45 percent of imports coming from, other EU countries in 2006 and 2007. Trade in fish and fishery products among the more developed economies consists mainly of demersal species, herring, mackerel and salmon but also bivalves. In general, a significant share of trade among developed countries is of farmed origin.

The trade in fish between developing countries represents only 25 percent of the value of their fishery exports. This trade should increase in the future, partly as a result of the emergence of more liberal and effectively implemented regional trade agreements, and partly driven by the demographic, social and economic trends that are transforming food markets in developing countries. However, such trade is hampered by the fact that the majority of developing countries apply, in general terms, much higher import tariffs for all imported products than do developed countries. This is mostly to generate much-needed government revenue. Over time, the trade in fish and fish products between developing countries is likely to improve subsequent to a gradual trade liberalization and a reduction in import tariffs following the expanding membership of the WTO and the entry into force of a number of bilateral trade agreements with strong relevance to the trade in fish. With the accession of China and Viet Nam to the WTO (in 2001 and 2007, respectively), all the major fish producing, importing and exporting countries are now members of the organization, with the exception of the Russian Federation. The latter is a WTO observer and is involved in access negotiations, with the aim of becoming a full member within this decade. In addition to the member countries’ individual commitments on import tariffs, the most important elements of the WTO agreements for trade in fish are those concerning subsidies, antidumping, technical barriers to trade (TBT), sanitary and phytosanitary standards, and dispute resolution.

Some of the major recent issues concerning international trade in fishery products have been:

  • introduction by buyers and international retailers of private standards for food safety and quality, animal health, environmental sustainability and social purposes;
  • continuation of trade disputes related to shrimp and salmon exports;
  • the growing concern of the general public and the retail sector about overexploitation of certain fish stocks;
  • the uptake of ecolabels by major retailers;
  • certification of aquaculture in general and of shrimp in particular;
  • the multilateral trade negotiations in the WTO;
  • expansion of regional trade areas, and regional and bilateral trade agreements;
  • the negotiations on economic partnership agreements between the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the EU;
  • global warming and its impact on the fisheries sector;
  • rising energy prices and their impact on fisheries;
  • rising commodity prices in general and their impact on producers as well as consumers.

18 World Trade Organization. 2007. World Trade Report 2007. Geneva.
19 Fish import figures differ from export figures because the former are usually reported in c.i.f. (cost, insurance and freight), whereas exports are reported at f.o.b. (free on board) values.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 48-54

5.3 What are the markets for specific types of fish products?

The source document for this Digest states:


In world markets, the trade focus is mainly on high-value species, such as shrimp, salmon, tuna, gadiformes, 20 bass and bream. However, a number of high-volume but relatively low-value species are also traded in large quantities not only nationally and within major producing areas (such as Asia and South America) but also at the international level. Many of these species are farmed. With the tremendous growth in aquaculture production of the last few decades, the absolute and relative contribution of farmed products to international trade has also grown considerably. Many of the species that have registered the highest growth rates in the last few years are mostly destined for export. Export growth rates for species such as catfish and tilapia currently exceed 50 percent per year. These species are entering new markets where, only a few years ago, they were practically unknown. This highlights the potential for further growth in the production, trade and consumption of species and products that respond to consumers’ needs for moderately-priced white- meat fillets and that, for the most part, are sold through the supermarket or food service channels. Many species, such as salmon, tuna and tilapia, trade increasingly in processed form (fillets or loins). However, trade in many aquaculture products is not yet well documented as the classification used internationally to record trade statistics for fish does not distinguish species between wild and those of farmed origin.

Owing to the high perishability of fish and fishery products, more than 90 percent of the quantity of international trade of fish and fishery products is conducted in processed form, albeit to varying degrees. In 2006, the share of live, fresh or chilled fish was 10 percent by quantity, but more than 18 percent by value. Live and fresh fish are valuable but difficult to trade and transport, and they are often subject to stringent health regulations and quality standards. Nonetheless, trade in live fish has increased in recent years as a result of technological developments, improved logistics and increased demand. International statistics on trade in live fish also include trade in ornamental fish, which is high in value terms but almost negligible in terms of quantity traded.

Exports of frozen fish have increased in the past decade, from 31 percent of the total quantity of fish exports in 1996 to 39 percent in 2006. Exports of prepared and preserved fish totalled 9.3 million tonnes (live weight equivalent) in 2006, representing17 percent of total exports (10 percent in 1996). Exports of cured fish accounted for 5 percent of total exports in 2006, remaining rather stable in the last decade. In 2006, exports of non-food fishery products represented 29 percent of total fish exports in terms of quantity, a large proportion of which originated from South American countries.

20 Cod and related species.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 54

The source document for this Digest states:

5.3.1 Shrimp

Shrimp continues to be the largest single commodity in value terms, accounting for 17 percent of the total value of internationally-traded fishery products (2006). Despite growing export volumes, its share has been declining, with average prices showing a downward trend. In value terms, the major exporting countries are Thailand, China and Viet Nam. In 2007, shrimp imports were weaker in both the United States of America (the main shrimp importer) and Japan, whereas the EU consolidated its position as the leading shrimp market in the world. Apart from the United Kingdom, all major European countries experienced a stable or increasing trend for shrimp imports. Prices for cultured shrimp fell owing to softer demand, while prices for wild shrimp rose in early 2008 (Figure 35). With prices and margins under pressure, many producers of farmed shrimp are now looking into diversification and value-addition strategies in order to counter the price weakness, including cut-backs in output in order to stabilize prices.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 55

The source document for this Digest states:

5.3.2 Salmon

The share of salmon (including trout) in world trade has increased strongly in recent decades and now stands at 11 percent. This has been driven mainly by the strong growth in salmon and trout aquaculture in Northern Europe and in North and South America. Prices have oscillated in line with sudden shifts in supply, reaching record levels in 2006 but returning to more normal levels in 2007 and 2008. Industry concentration is enabling producers to benefit from economies of scale, in particular in the use of feed, but also in the handling of disease, a problem that has affected some of the larger companies. Demand for farmed salmon is firm, increasing steadily year by year, with new markets opening up in both developed, transition and developing countries. The increase in demand for farmed salmon is facilitated by the expansion of modern retail channels and the steady availability of product throughout the year.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 55

The source document for this Digest states:

5.3.3 Groundfish

Groundfish represented 10 percent of total fish exports (by value) in 2006. Globalization in the groundfish sector is evident with products processed in China and Viet Nam continuing to supply world markets. China consolidated its position in the cod and pollock fillet markets. In the United States of America, groundfish imports fell as exporters preferred the “Euro area” (given the weak US dollar). Dollar weakness contributed to stable prices in local currency terms in key European frozen-fillet markets in 2007 (Figure 36). The relatively stable price situation was also helped by steady Alaska pollock supplies. Hake provisions from some origins (notably Argentina) were weaker than in 2006, influenced by buoyant regional demand in South America itself. The groundfish market is characterized by a high degree of substitution among the different groundfish species as well as with other species. Increasingly, the market for fillets is being supplied by freshwater species, such as tilapia, catfish and Nile perch. Annual farmed production of the first two species exceeds 2 million and 1 million tonnes, respectively. Tilapia has found a ready market in the United States of America, whereas catfish imports are growing rapidly in the EU, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America. Despite smaller quotas for a number of wild traditional groundfish species, the ample supply of ready substitutes from farmed sources has prevented prices from rising beyond certain levels.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 55-56

The source document for this Digest states:

5.3.4 Tuna

The share of tuna in total fish exports in 2006 was 8 percent. Tuna markets were rather unstable owing to large fluctuations in catch levels, and they declined in 2007. The main reason for this decline was the increased fuel price, which made long fishing trips uneconomical for the world tuna fleet. Prices increased in all main markets (Figure 37), and canned tuna prices soared for the first time in 20 years. Japan, the largest market for imported tuna, saw falling quantities in all categories. Import tariffs on tuna remain an important issue for both importers and exporters, as does the impact of preferential access for products from specific countries.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 56-57

The source document for this Digest states:

5.3.5 Cephalopods

The share of cephalopods in world trade in fish was 4.2 percent in 2006. Thailand is the largest exporter of squid and cuttlefish, followed by Spain, China and Argentina. Morocco is the principal octopus exporter. Spain, Italy and Japan are the largest importers of this species. Total annual catches of cephalopods are fairly stable at about 3.6–3.8 million tonnes. Squid prices plummeted in 2007 as traders in Argentina sold at prices much below those of the previous season. On the other hand, octopus production and trade declined in 2007 as a result of limited catches by the Mauritanian fleet. Demand for octopus in Japan improved, and lower imports resulted in an important price hike of US$2.00 per kilogram in the course of 2007 (Figure 38).

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 56-57

The source document for this Digest states:

5.3.6 Fishmeal

In recent decades, fishmeal production has been remarkably stable at about 6 million tonnes (product weight), fluctuating between 5 million and 7 million tonnes depending on catch levels of anchovy off South America. Total fishmeal production of the main fishmeal exporters for 2007 reached 2.7 million tonnes, slightly below that of 2006. A significant reduction in anchovy catches off Peru in 2006 led to sharply higher fishmeal prices in that year, but prices were rather stable in the course of 2007. In early 2008, fishmeal prices moved upwards again, and are likely to remain high, also in view of high vegetable meal prices (Figure 39). Of note is the large share of fishmeal now consumed by the aquaculture industry, estimated at 60 percent, with strong demand particularly in China. At the same time, the poultry industry has drastically reduced its fishmeal use.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 57-58

The source document for this Digest states:

5.3.7 Fish oil

Production of fish oil was relatively high in 2007. This resulted from the high fat content of the fish processed. In early 2008, fish-oil prices soared to an all-time record of US$1 700/tonne, compared with US$915/tonne one year earlier. Demand for fish oil for direct human use is boosting prices (Figure 40). For fish oil, the role of aquaculture is even greater than for fishmeal, with close to 85 percent of production consumed by the sector, and with salmonids responsible for more than 55 percent of the sector’s share.

Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish trade, p. 58-59

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