Rising sales from South America a “direct threat” to Asian exporters' EU market share

Published on
July 8, 2021

Shrimp exporters in Ecuador and Venezuela are ramping up their exports to the European Union, posing a “direct threat” to Asian shrimp exports, according to shrimp industry analyst Willem van der Pijl.

Van der Pijl founded the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal (STIP) in 2013 and formed Shrimp Insights, a consultancy aimed at the shrimp sector, in June 2020. In his latest analysis, van der Pjil said South American shrimp exporters have gained a larger market share in the E.U., at the expense of Asian shrimp suppliers.

Last year, the E.U. imported 75,318 metric tons (MT) of shrimp from Asia, down 7.2 percent from 2019. Of the total, the E.U.’s imports from India fell 9.7 percent to 26,207 MT, and its imports from Bangladesh dropped 16.6 percent to 16,794 MT. Vietnam was an exception, as it grew its E.U. exports by 2.3 percent to 28,366 MT, partly as a result of a free trade agreement it signed with the E.U.

While part of the decline can be attributed to trading complications caused by COVID-19 – including lockdowns, a shortage of shipping containers, and other pandemic-related issues facing Asian exporters – van der Pjil said the downward trend clearly started before the pandemic, perhaps even as early as 2015. The European Union imported 95,909 MT of shrimp from Asian countries in 2017, declining to 88,923 MT in 2018, and to 81,177 MT in 2019.

Along with the decline has come a commensurate surge in South American shrimp exports to the E.U. Venezuela increased its E.U. exports between 2015 and 2019, and Ecuador shipped 24.5 percent more shrimp in 2020 compared to 2019, hitting its highest-ever total of 123,553 MT last year.

Ecuadorian suppliers have established a firm base in Southern Europe, but notably, they have been rapidly expanding to Northern Europe, a trend “of utmost importance for Asian suppliers to look into,” according to van der Pijl. Ecuador’s sales into Northern Europe reached to 12,000 MT last year, up from between an average of 5,000 MT to 6,000 MT between 2015 and 2019. Although Ecuador and other South American suppliers have not been able to compete against Asian suppliers in frozen products packed at origin, their share in peeled shrimp in refreshed segment in Europe supermarkets is on the rise, van der Pjil said. This can be seen in Ecuador’s increasing exports to the Netherlands and Belgium, where companies reprocess imported Ecuadorian shrimp and resell to supermarkets across Europe.

“Although already having an established market in Southern Europe, almost every supermarket purchase manager I talked to in Northwestern Europe wants to add Ecuadorian products to their portfolio,” van der Pjil said.

Ecuador’s attention to the European market has intensified as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended its trading with China, where it had previously sent around 75 percent of its total shrimp exports, valued at USD 3.6 billion (EUR 3 billion) in 2019. But after China squeezed its seafood imports following is discovery of potential instances of COVID-19 on shrimp packaging Ecuador shifted focus to other markets, including the E.U.

Ecuador’s National Chamber of Aquaculture (CNA) Executive President José Antonio Camposano recently told SeafoodSource his country’s shrimp producers are now aiming to address cyclical demand from around the world, with a particular focus on the United States and the E.U., while maintaining its share of the Chinese market.

There will be months in which the U.S. is our main market, others in which it will be Europe, and still others when it will be China. That’s healthy for Ecuador,” he said.

Ecuador has been successful in marketing its shrimp as the best in the world – a reputation that has benefitted suppliers from other South American countries as well, van der Pijl said. Ecuador and Venezuela have also been able to offer competitive prices due to lower production costs, he said. As a result, according to van der Pijl, the flow of Ecuadorian shrimp into mainstream E.U. retail markets is posing “a direct threat to the position of Asian competitors.”

Van der Pijl said in order to regain market share in the E.U., Asian producers should reconsider their strategy and work together to improve the reputation of their shrimp in Europe.

“To counter the surge of Ecuadorian and other South American producers in Northern Europe’s market for peeled shrimp, Asia’s suppliers need to start competing not only on the price, but also on the quality, sustainability, and perception of their products,” he said.

Photo courtesy of jaanall/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from Hanoi, Vietnam

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