Thailand emerges as global seafood powerhouse
Thailand is one of the most important players in the global seafood trade. At last month’s European Seafood Exposition, Panisuan Jamnarnwej, president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA), talked about the country’s export position.
Jamnarnwej explained that Thailand’s exports of fresh, chilled and frozen seafood products stand at around 570,000 metric tons, 50 percent more than a decade ago, but down from a peak of 710,000 metric tons in 2007. Since 2002, the value of the country’s exports fresh, chilled and frozen seafood products has doubled from USD 1.2 billion to USD 2.75 billion.
Exports of shelf-stable seafood products over the past decade have also experienced some significant peaks and troughs, and they now stand at just under 300,000 metric tons. However, the unit price has risen significantly during that period, leading to a total value of USD 2.25 billion in 2011, up from USD 1.2 million in 2002. This means that the value of Thailand’s seafood exports now stand at USD 5 billion.
“The No. 1 export destination for all Thai seafood is the United States, which accounts for 36.4 percent of the value, closely followed by Japan at 28.4 percent,” said Jamnarnwej.
In 2011, Thailand’s exports to the United States were valued at USD 1.8 billion, up 12.61 percent from the previous year, while exports to Japan were valued at USD 1.43 billion, up 22.4 percent from 2010.
Other countries in the top 10, which together make up more than 85 percent of the total value of Thailand’s exports, are Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Germany, South Korea, China and France.
“Shrimp is our most important export product and now accounts for just under half of all exports, whereas six years ago it made up 30 percent,” said Jamnarnwej. “In terms of value, almost half (46.25 percent) went to the U.S. in 2011, with just under a quarter (22.26 percent) going to Japan.”
Thailand is the world’s second largest producer of shrimp, behind China, and produces white shrimp (Penaeous vannamei), black tiger shrimp (P. monodon) and the giant freshwater shrimp (Machrobranchium rosenbergii).
In 2011, Thailand produced 565,000 metric tons of shrimp, not far off from China’s 600,000 metric tons. By comparison, Central and South America produced 452,000 metric tons and Vietnam 240,000 metric tons. Total global production in 2011 amounted to 2,335,000 metric tons, up from 2,200,000 metric tons in 2010.
EU imports of shrimp in 2011, including coldwater, came to 551,643 metric tons. Thai output accounted for just under 10 percent, making it the fifth biggest supplier in terms of volume (although second in value), behind Ecuador, Argentina, Greenland and India. The severe flooding in coastal regions in 2010 resulted in volumes declining from 60,922 metric tons to 54,560 metric tons. However, production is now back on track and plentiful supplies are expected in 2012. It is anticipated that an increase in production, along with greater availability of shrimp from Vietnam and India this year, will lead to a reduction in price.
Jamnarnwej explained that Thailand’s export success was partly due to the considerable efforts made by the Thai government and industry over the past decade to ensure that production and manufacturing standards meet international expectations in terms of food safety, traceability, environmental integrity, social responsibility and labor regulations.
However, a major EU importer said these last two issues had been a concern and that considerable pressure had been put on the Thai government to improve them.
“An ongoing project to address child labor, forced labor and migrant welfare in the shrimp and seafood processing industry has already resulted in the development of a Good Labour Practice program, and we are also improving access to education and social protection services,” said Jamnarnwej.
“There is always room to do better, so we are not complacent but continually work to maintain our reputation as a responsible supplier of high class seafood,” he said.