Rabobank: Global seafood trade now worth USD 153 billion

Published on
May 6, 2019

Seafood is one of the world’s most important food commodities and the trade continues to grow in line with rising demand and supply, but the dynamics of that trade are likely to change in the coming years, according to a new seafood trade map and report compiled by Rabobank International.

With an estimated traded value of USD 153 billion (EUR 136.5 billion) in 2017, increasing by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4 percent in the five-year period 2012-2017, the global seafood trade has been led by value growth rather than increased volumes. As Rabobank’s “World Seafood Map 2019” finds, the largest trade flow in value terms is still from Norway to the E.U., mainly consisting of salmon and some whitefish. This is followed by trade flows of salmon and crustaceans from Canada, and flows of whitefish and crustaceans from China to the U.S. market.

Rabobank Analyst Behyhan de Jong, who compiled the map, told SeafoodSource that in 2013, the average price of salmon in Norway was NOK 40 (USD 4.60, EUR 4.11) per kilogram, but this had increased by 50 percent to a level of NOK 60 (USD 6.91, EUR 6.16) in 2018. Meanwhile, the supply growth of shrimp has led to decreased prices, however, increased exports, “particularly from India and Ecuador,” have driven an increased crustacean trade globally, added de Jong.

Underpinned by the importance of localized production and the rising global demand for products, Rabobank expects seafood to maintain its standing as one of the most traded food commodities. Processing and re-exports are also important contributors to the traded volumes.

While the analysis expects the demand for seafood to continue, it believes that the further growth of farmed seafood consumption will be at the expense of wild catches, which will support the seafood trade. It also explains that the increase in trade in recent years has been primarily driven by farmed species, consisting of high-value premium crustaceans and marine species and lower-value whitefish species traded from Southeast Asia to Western countries. 

Rabobank anticipates that this trend will continue, and also that large seafood consuming countries such as China, where supply can’t keep up with demand, will be importing more seafood products. It further reckons that trade dynamics and routes are likely to change in the upcoming years, due to influences such as: increased protectionism; current uncertainties in trade relations among several trade partners (e.g. Brexit and the U.S.-China trade war); the growing aquaculture sector in different parts of the world with new technologies (e.g. land-based and offshore farms); and biological challenges in the animal protein sector (e.g. African swine fever).

“China’s seafood imports will probably increase due to extra demand for seafood resulted by African swine fever in the country. This adds to the other import driving factors such as increasing income, distrust in local production, demand for premium, high-value seafood in China,” de Jong said. “Japan’s imports could decrease further. It is already on a decreasing trend due to demographics in the country such as an aging nation. Russia’s seafood imports have also decreased. This is due to the trade embargo that Russia has imposed on particular imports of goods. Political factors such as this can always change future trade relations.”

Underlining the importance of crustaceans and salmon to the increased trade value growth, the analysis confirms that between 2013 and 2017, the United States, the E.U., and China all increased their crustacean imports, with India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mexico, and Ecuador establishing more efficient production systems to provide larger volumes to these markets. Likewise, in the salmon sector, Chile has doubled its exports to China in the last four years.

In fact, all salmon producers – particularly Norway – increased exports to all consumer regions, according to Rabobank.

Comprising both wild-caught and farmed species, whitefish still has the most traded volumes. This category’s trade flows also include China’s re-exports of processed whitefish from Russia. In terms of trade shifts, Rabobank found that when compared to 2013, China’s whitefish exports to the United States (mainly tilapia) have decreased by 33 percent. However, Vietnam has filled this gap by increasing its pangasius exports to the U.S. market.

Meanwhile, due to improved supply from Peru, there has been an increase in the fishmeal and fish oil trade in the last four years. At the same time, the relatively higher prices of both fishmeal and fish oil have also led to a value increase in the trade flows. Driven by its large aquaculture industry, China remains the largest consumer of these products.

Liz Plizga, group vice president with Diversified Communications, the organizer of Seafood Expo Global, the world’s largest seafood expo, which takes place in Brussels, Belgium, and which opens on Tuesday, 7 May and runs through Thursday, 9 May, said strong exhibition space sales and attendance figures this year substantiate Rabobank’s findings on the general fitness of the industry. [Editor’s note: Diversified Communications also owns and operates SeafoodSource].

“In terms of space, the event has exceeded 40,000 square meters of sold space and has more than 2,000  exhibiting companies from 88 countries, both numbers that are all-time highs,” Plizga said. “I think it’s fair to say the show mirrors what is happening in the industry, with it being the premier global event for seafood, it can definitely be viewed as a microcosm of how the industry is doing.”

Plizga said the growth is coming from all parts of the industry and all geographies.

“A rising tide appears to be lifting all boats,” she said. “The seafood economy seems really healthy right now. People seem optimistic regarding their outlooks on their potential for growth both now and in the future.”

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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