In a seller’s market, how does Europe guarantee Asian supplies?
AN EU funded project looking at the EU’s future position in the global seafood system found a decline in the volume of fish imported by European countries from Asia.
Europe aims to develop its aquaculture sector through technology and innovation platforms and it hopes that Asia is going to develop such a platform as well, said Professor Johan Verreth of Wageningen University, who is working on the Horizon 2020 Eurastip project.
Aquaculture is growing in Vietnam and Bangladesh and is stable or decreasing in Thailand and the EU. Consumption is growing heavily in Asia, and slightly in the EU.
Consumption in the whole of Europe shows that more farmed seafood is eaten in the south than in the north, where they eat a lot of wild caught fish.
EU production is 1.3 million tonnes, worth 4 billion euros. Consumption is 25.1kg per capita per year and is growing slowly. Some 6.5 kg is farmed, of which 57 per cent is sourced from outside the EU, including Norway.
This represents a very small amount compared to the animal sector, and it is difficult for fish to reach the efficiency of the poultry section.
The trend over the years is that the self-sufficiency rate is declining. This accounts for seafood in general and farmed seafood too.
‘The question is why? Don’t we produce enough?’ asked Verreth. ‘Changes in consumer preferences over the last decade show us eating much more salmon (25 per cent), while the share of pangasius has decreased at about the same rate.’
Among the EU’s seafood trading partners, Bangladesh has witnessed an explosive growth of aquaculture, by 16 times in production volume over the last 30 years (19842014).There has been a shift from unfed to fed production; intensification is happening.
But the amount of shrimp the EU imports is decreasing. The position of Europe remains about eight per cent as a market in Bangladesh.
In Thailand, overall production has decreased, with diseases playing a part. Shrimp exports have declined quite heavily over three or four years, and the relative importance of the EU in the market for Thailand is decreasing seriously.
It has dropped from 15 per cent to five per cent over 10 years, with the shift to the US and to China.
Vietnam has doubled the European production. Seafood is very crucial to its economy, the third most important sector after shoes and oil.
The export value of shrimp and pangasius is very similar, although in volume terms pangasius exceeds shrimp.
While salmon imports are growing, they export les shrimp and much less pangasius to the EU than before.
In 2012, the EU accounted for 25 per cent of total sales of seafood and now it’s less than 20 per cent.
‘What can explain these differences? Is it simply changes in production, or changes in consumer preferences in Europe, or are regulatory issues relating to food safety playing a role?’
Verreth said import tariffs imposed by the EU could also have played a major part in the decrease of exports from Asia.
The EU imports 65 per cent of the seafood it consumes, mainly from Asia. In Europe, there are high standards on the quality of that food, regarding safety and sustainability, and retailers impose their own rules on the food chain.
‘But we have to be aware that Asian suppliers are less dependent on EU consumers. What does that mean in the trade negotiations…and to what extent will these trends affect seafood security in the future?
‘Europe seems to respond to this by saying we need to produce more but can we ever close that gap of 65 per cent production? What is our future position in the global seafood system?
‘We are shifting from a buyer’s to a seller’s market,’ said Verreth, ‘and we have to gain their willingness to sell to us. The challenge is to find a way to guarantee their supplies.’
Above: Changing trends